Chicken Producers Gear Up To Battle Beef

Chicken producers have something to crow about, and they’re gearing up for a battle to boost market share.

Chicken producers continue to bet that consumers will shift to alternative meats from beef in coming months by increasing the number of eggs placed into incubators and the number of chicks placed into growing facilities for eventual slaughter.

Last week, chicken producers set about 209 million eggs into incubators, up 3% from a year earlier, the USDA said.  About 83% of these eggs, or 173 million, are expected to hatch.

During the same week, producers placed 163 million chicks into growing facilities for eventual slaughter.  This also was up 3% from the same week a year ago.

Those chicks will be ready for slaughter in about six weeks, or sometime during the middle of January.  This may be well timed since consumers will be facing holiday credit card bills about that time and could be looking for cheaper alternatives to beef.

Cumulative placements through 2014 indicates chicken production of 8.23 billion birds, an increase of 1% from the same period a year earlier.




Boosted by tight supplies and a strong seasonal component for some cuts, wholesale beef prices set a record high the second week of August.  That was when the USDA’s choice boxed beef cutout value reached $262.26 per cwt.

Since then, the choice cutout declined to its most recent low of $238.19 the first week of October.  A subsequent bounce has taken the price back near $260.

But even at the October low, the price was $42.54 per cwt, or 21.7%, above the $195.65 price of just a year earlier.  It also was $75.03, or 46.0%, above a year earlier.

It’s little wonder that market analysts or chicken producers expect consumers to revolt and shift to other, cheaper meats after the holidays.

A USDA three-month weighted average of the choice, boneless ribeye (from which rib roasts are cut) shows the current price at a record $838.56 per cwt last week, up $66.11, or 8.56%, above a year ago’s record and $43.92, or 5.53% above the three-year average of $794.64.

The only cut of beef that is below the USDA’s three-month data set of last year and the three-year average is the choice heavy tenderloin.  At $1,181.16 per cwt, it is below last year’s $1,273.27 and the three-year average of $1,222.52.

Prices for the tenderloin dropped in early November and have been below last year and the average for the last two weeks.




Hog prices are holding just above last year and the average, the USDA said.  Last week’s price of $85.61 per cwt was up 7.8% from a year ago and 5.4% higher than the three-year average.  It’s also just above the previous week’s $85.47 and the $85.56 of two weeks ago.

Some analysts say pork also could steal some of beef’s thunder with lower prices during the first quarter.

However, market analysts said per capita pork consumption doesn’t respond as much to weekly grocery features as beef or chicken, leading many to conclude that beef producers should be more focused on chicken than on pork.




Rumors of widely scattered cash cattle trading circulated in the market Wednesday.  A few may have sold at $265 per cwt on a dressed basis in Nebraska, and some may have traded in Iowa at $166 on a live basis

Packers were bidding $166 live in Nebraska and Kansas.  Feedlot asking prices held at $175 live and around $270 dressed.