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USDA report: Death loss cost the cattle industry $3.87 billion in 2015

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

In December 2017, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Veterinary Service and National Animal Health Monitoring System released Death Loss in U.S. Cattle and Calves Due to Predator and Non-predator Causes, 2015 report, detailing the impacts of predators and disease on the U.S. cattle industry.

“In 2015, total U.S. inventory of adult cattle was 78 million head, and the total calf crop was 34 million head,” said the report. “Almost 3.9 million cattle and calves were lost to all causes in 2015.” 

Overall, one-third of cattle operations reported deaths in adult cattle, while 40 percent of cattle operations had deaths in calves. 

Death loss in cattle, according to the report, totaled $3.87 billion. Further, the report noted death loss in cattle has been consistent since 2000.

Non-predator deaths

Death loss in cattle from non-predator related causes was responsible for 98 percent of adult cattle deaths and 89 percent of calf deaths, according to the report. 

“Respiratory problems accounted for the highest percentage of deaths in cattle due to non-predators,” USDA said, noting that 23.9 percent of cattle were lost as a result of respiratory illness.

Unknown causes resulted in 14 percent of deaths, and old age affected 11.8 percent of non-predator deaths in adult cattle. 

For calves, 26.9 percent of death loss resulted from respiratory problems, while calving-related problems were to blame for 17.8 percent of calf deaths. Digestive problems were pinpointed for 15.4 percent of calf deaths.

“Beef operations reported a higher percentage of calf losses due to calving-related problems, at 22.7 percent, and weather-related causes, at 18.3 percent, compared with the other operation types” said USDA. “Conversely, beef operations had a lower percentage of deaths due to respiratory problems than the other operation types.” 


While overall death loss in cattle has remained steady, USDA also noted calf death as a result of predators is on the rise. 

“The percentage of calf deaths attributed to predators increased steadily from 3.5 percent in 1995 to 11.1 percent in 2015,” USDA said. “Predator-related calf deaths on cattle operations accounted for nearly 16 percent of calf deaths on these types of operations – nearly triple the percentage of predator-related deaths on other types of operations.”

Coyotes were marked as the result of 40.5 percent of cattle deaths and 53.1 percent of calf deaths. Unknown predators caused 15.8 percent of cattle deaths and 12.4 percent of calf deaths.

USDA reported, “Overall, dogs, wolves and coyotes accounted for more than half of cattle death losses due to predators, which is a higher percentage of loss than due to bears or predatory birds combined.”

Economic component

While the majority of operations have experienced losses, USDA also noted, “Total cattle and calf death losses were valued at $3.87 billion in 2015. Losses on beef operations accounted for 58 percent of the total value of losses.”

They continued, “For cattle, non-predator causes of death accounted for almost 98 percent of the total value of losses. For calves, non-predator causes made up 88 percent of the total value.”

 Predator control

USDA also reported predator control methods used on operations. 

“From 2000-15, the percentage of operations that used nonlethal methods to control predators increased approximately six-fold – from 3.1 percent in 2000 to 19 percent in 2015,” USDA said, adding that guard dogs and fencing are the most popular methods of nonlethal methods to control predators, followed by livestock carcass removal, culling older cattle and frequent checks during high risk predator periods. 

They continued, “For operations that spent any money on nonlethal or lethal predator control methods, the average amount spent on nonlethal methods was about $3,000 and about $300 for lethal methods.”

Wyoming data

In Wyoming, the number of non-predator-related reported deaths was 11,380, and predator-related deaths hit 620, for a total of 12,000 cattle deaths. For calves, non-predator related deaths were 24,220, and predator related deaths 2,780, for a total of 27,000 calf losses in Wyoming.

In dissecting non-predatory deaths, 13.7 percent were caused by weather, 13.2 percent by old age, 12.5 percent were caused by respiratory illness, 8.5 percent by poisoning and 6.7 percent were caused by injury. Digestive problems resulted in 3.4 percent of deaths, and 3.8 percent of deaths were the result of other disease. Additionally, calving resulted in 5.1 percent of cattle losses. Unknown non-predator concerns accounted for 27.7 percent of cattle deaths.

Calves were affected by weather, causing 23.7 percent of deaths, respiratory disease, resulting in 22.8 percent of losses, and calving, which was the result of 21.9 percent of losses.

On the predator side for adult cattle, 12.9 percent of predator losses were attributed to grizzly bears, 4.6 were attributed to coyotes, 18.4 percent attributed to wolves and 58.3 percent were unknown. Wyoming had the second highest percent of unknown predator deaths, falling behind Iowa, which reported 67.5 percent of predator deaths as unknown.

Looking at calves, the primary predators include grizzly bears, with 17 percent of deaths, wolves, accounting for 16.8 percent of deaths, and unknown predators accounting for 18.7 percent of deaths.

On a percentage basis, 53.1 percent of operations reported calf deaths, and 48.2 reported cattle losses.

“The percentage of cattle inventory lost to non-predator causes ranged from 0.9 percent in North Dakota and Wyoming to three percent in Texas,” said USDA.

One percent of Wyoming’s adult cattle industry was lost to both predator and non-predator causes, while four percent of the calf crop was lost as a result of both predator and non-predator causes.

In Wyoming, the value of cattle and calves that died exceeded $27.3 million.

Saige Albert, managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, compiled this article from USDA’s recent report. Send comments to

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