The United States has had the fewest cows it's ever had in the last seven years, which means that high meat prices will continue to rise, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Numerous ranchers sent cows to slaughter in 2021 instead of keeping them to reproduce, as dry weather reduced the amount of pasture for grazing in the western United States and on the Plains.

Labor shortages and workers' fears about COVID-19 also limited slaughtering at processing plants that were run by companies like Tyson Foods Inc and JBS USA, the North American arm of Brazilian meatpacker JBS SA.

The beef cow herd totaled 30.1 million head as of Jan. 1, which meant it was down 2% from a year earlier and the lowest since 2015.

All cattle and calves totaled 91.9 million head, also down 2% from a year ago.

"We're going to have less beef in the pipeline," said Altin Kalo, agricultural economist for Steiner Consulting.

President Joe Biden's administration, concerned about price hikes in general and especially in the meat sector, said this month it would spend $1 billion and issue new rules to address a lack of "meaningful competition" in meat processing.

The U.S. Labor Department said earlier this month that the last time inflation was this high was over 40 years ago and there’s no sign of easing.