Cow, Heifer Slaughter Shows Slower Herd Growth

Federally inspected beef cow and heifer slaughter rates in November continue to show that the US beef cattle herd growth has slowed considerably from last year.

Data show that the herd likely continued to grow in 2017, but monthly slaughter data all year shows that more females are being slaughtered than in the same months of 2016.  And since some of the data in the 2011-2015 average contain years in which the cattle herd was restrained by drought and unprofitable conditions, the 2016 and 2017 monthly slaughter rates remain below the average.




Data from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service shows that November beef cow slaughter at 264,400 head, up 20,100, or 8.23%, from 244,300 a year earlier but 8,860, or 3.24%, below the previous five-year average of 273,260.

As might be expected, beef cow slaughter rose this fall as cattle are pulled from declining pastures and pregnancy tested or culled for other reasons like age.  If all goes according to the seasonal norms, monthly beef cow slaughter should decline in December, but a market analyst said there is little reason to expect it to break out of its path between last year and the 2011-2015 average.




When the national beef cattle herd begins to grow, the evidence will show up first in a decline in cow slaughter, but as the herd size approaches its zenith, heifer slaughter will begin to rise.  Keeping cows for another year or two of production when herd growth is desired is the fastest way to get marketable calves, but as a producer’s herd gets closer to the desirable size, fewer heifers will be retained for breeding, and more will be sent to slaughter.

Accordingly, monthly heifer slaughter this year has been above last year in every month but took a jump above the 2011-2015 average August.  Heifer slaughter has remained above the five-year average ever since.

USDA-NASS data show that in November, heifer slaughter totaled 804,800 head, up 94,200, or 13.3%, from 710,600 a year earlier and 100,220, or 14.2%, above the previous five-year average of 704,580 head.

If heifer slaughter follows the seasonal trend, December’s rate likely will be below November’s.  And a market analyst said it would be safe to assume that a dip below last year or the 2011-2015 average would be a surprise signal of possible herd-growth plans.




No fed cattle sold Wednesday on the Livestock Exchange video auction.  Last Wednesday, a couple lots sold at $120 per cwt, up $4.  The USDA reported only one trade at $192 per cwt on a dressed basis this week, up $1 to $2 from last week.

Cash cattle traded last week at $120 per cwt on a live basis in the Plains, steady to up $1 from the bulk of the previous week’s action.  Dressed-basis sales were reported at $190 to $191 per cwt, up $2 to $3.

The USDA’s choice cutout Thursday was up $0.68 per cwt at $202.28, while select was up $0.49 at $190.91.  The choice/select spread widened to $11.37 from $11.18 with 124 loads of fabricated product sold into the spot market.

The CME Feeder Cattle index for the seven days ended Wednesday was $145.88 per cwt, down $2.48.  This compares with Thursday’s Jan settlement at $145.60 per cwt, up $0.42, and the Mar settlement of $142.22, up $0.50.