Brazil breeders retain female cows, herd grows for first time in 3 years - IBGE

SAO PAULO/RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 15 (Reuters) - The size of the cattle herd in Brazil, the world’s largest beef exporter, grew for the first time in three years in 2019, according to data released on Thursday by the government’s bureau of statistics IBGE.

The country’s herd totaled 214.7 million head in 2019, a 0.4% rise from 2018, driven by a retention of female cows for breeding and a 5.1% growth of the herd in Mato Grosso state, IBGE said. In 2018 and 2017, herd size had declined.

Mato Grosso, where most of Brazil’s grains and livestock is produced, accounted for nearly 15% of Brazil’s cattle herd.

“In 2019, we observed a drop in the participation of female cows in slaughtering, suggesting a transition from the low cattle cycle to the high cycle, which is when the producer starts to retain females due to good market prices,” said IBGE’s livestock research supervisor Mariana Oliveira.

She noted 2019 was marked by record beef exports, especially to China.

Looking ahead, it remains to be seen whether rains will benefit pastures in the Center-West regions of Brazil, which accounts for about 40% of cattle production, according to the USDA.

Rains are a key factor as most of Brazil’s cattle is grass-fed. This year, a drought has delayed soybean planting at the start of the grain season to the slowest pace in 10 years, according to agribusiness consultancy AgRural.

In 2021, Brazil’s beef exports are forecast to hit a record high for the third consecutive year driven mainly by Chinese demand and demand recovery in certain other markets, the USDA said on Oct. 9.

Brazil’s IBGE data also showed the country’s poultry herd was relatively stable at 1.5 billion head in 2019, while the size of the pork herd dropped by 1.6% to 40.6 million head. (Reporting by Rodrigo Viga and Ana Mano Editing by Marguerita Choy)