Cattle Herd Building May Be Nearly Done

Total cow and heifer slaughter is boosting beef production, but it also may be pointing to collective producer decisions to begin cutting herd sizes, or at least to top out growth.

Data from USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service shows total cow slaughter up from last year and the 2012-2016 average.  What’s more, beef and dairy cow slaughter are up, so it’s not just one cattle segment over another.

Dairy cow slaughter was placed at 66,738 head last week, up 4,550, or 7.32%, from 62,188 in the same week last year and up 5,798, or 9.51%, from the previous five-year average of 60,940.

Beef cow slaughter rate is on a downward slope but remains above last year and the previous five-year average.  The latest weekly total was 52,982 head, up 4,164, or 8.53%, from 48,818 a year earlier and up 2,022, or 3.97%, from the 2012-2016 average of 50,960.




The increase in heifer slaughter is not yet a trend, though.  It may be just a short anomaly, but with the increased cow slaughter it bears watching.

In the meantime, the total slaughter has been enough to keep beef prices in check in spite of some seasonal increases in demand.

Writing in this week’s “In The Cattle Markets” for the Livestock Marketing Information Center, David Anderson, Professor and Extension Economist at Texas A&M, said after January steer slaughter was up 5.5%, February steer slaughter was 2.1% below that of February 2017.  March is even with a year ago, through mid-month including an estimate of steer slaughter using the preliminary data.

Heifer slaughter is up about 5.5% for the year to date.  In contrast to steer slaughter, heifer slaughter was up 7.8% in February, Anderson said.

The last Cattle on Feed report that split out the on-feed data into steers and heifers, said there were 15.9% more heifers on feed Jan. 1 than a year earlier, he said.




For 2018, steer dressed weights are up about 2.5 pounds over last year while heifer weights are up 7.2 pounds.  Cow dressed weights are up 13.3 pounds, Anderson said.  Heifer dressed weights are 56 pounds below steer dressed weights.

The mix of animals going to market is an important part of this spring price rally, he said.  Relatively more heifers and cows than steers is working to moderate beef production, which is only up 2.5% so far this year.

Beef from cull cows goes for different products and different markets than beef from fed steers and heifers, Anderson said.  Relatively tighter supplies of beef from steers has contributed to smaller growth in beef production and the recent rally in cattle prices, and the expectation of growing steer and heifer supplies is contributing to falling live cattle futures prices.




A total of 166 head cattle sold Wednesday on the Livestock Exchange Video Auction at $125.63 per cwt, down $98.63 from a week earlier.

Cash sales this week were at $124 to $126.50 per cwt on a live basis, down $1.50 to $2 from last week.  Dressed-basis trading was $200 to $203, down $4 to $5.

The USDA’s choice cutout Wednesday was up $1.03 per cwt at $224.38, while select was off $0.35 at $216.39.  The choice/select spread widened to $7.99 from $6.61 with 94 loads of fabricated product sold into the spot market.

The CME Feeder Cattle index for the seven days ended Tuesday, was $140.95 per cwt, down $0.30.  This compares with Wednesday’s Mar settlement of $136.77, down $1.00.