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Agri-Pulse reports:

The U.S. cattle herd as of Jan. 1 was the smallest since 1951, USDA said today in a report.

The inventory was 2 percent below a year earlier and marked the seventh straight year of decline, as a persistent drought ravaged pastures and pushed feed prices higher, prompting ranchers to cull herds.

The reduced supply helped drive cattle futures to $1.432 a pound earlier this month, the highest ever, and fresh beef at the supermarket is going for record prices.

The government report also showed:

-All cows and heifers that have calved, at 38.3 million, down 1 percent from Jan. 1, 2013, and the lowest number for that category since the 36.8 million in 1941.

-Beef cows, at 29.0 million, down 1 percent from the previous year.

-Milk cows at 9.2 million, unchanged.

In addition, the 2013 calf crop was estimated at 33.9 million head, down 1 percent from 2012. This is the smallest calf crop since the 33.7 million born during 1949.

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