Efficient Heifer Feeding May Have A Downside

The cattle industry continues to feed heifers more efficiently, but there may be a downside in portion sizes, said Derrell Peel Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist, in the Service’s “Cow/Calf Corner.”

Oklahoma State University research has shown that big carcasses lead to big beef cuts, which may limit demand, Peel said.

Heifer carcass weights appear to have provided a buffer against big steer carcasses for the past decade or more, but this may be coming to an end, he said.  Cattle and carcasses may continue to get bigger, but there is a very real question of the demand implications and economic consequences of such growth.




Heifer slaughter varies cyclically with additional heifer retention during herd expansion and reduced retention during liquidation, providing much of the variation in beef production in cattle cycles, Peel said.  Heifer slaughter as a percent of total fed cattle slaughter has averaged about 37% annually for the past 45 years, though heifers averaged less than 30% of yearling slaughter prior to 1965.

During periods of herd expansion, the heifer percentage of yearling slaughter drops to roughly 31% and during periods of herd liquidation, heifers will contribute about 40%, he said.  Most recently, a 12-month moving average of monthly heifer slaughter percentage bottomed at 31.4% in mid-2016 during aggressive herd expansion.

In 2001, cyclical liquidation of the beef herd resulted in a heifer slaughter percentage of 40.3%, Peel said.  Most of the period from 1995-2013 was herd liquidation and the average heifer percentage of yearling slaughter was 38.2%.

The beef cow herd expanded from 2014 through 2017, and heifer slaughter averaged 33.4% during that period, Peel said.  Most recently, heifer slaughter has increased to an annual average of 34.3% of yearling slaughter as heifer retention slowed.




Steer and heifer carcass weights have trended up for about 50 years, he said.  Heifer carcasses averaged 564 pounds in 1967 and 811 pounds in 2017 and continue near the 2012-2016 average.

Heifer carcass weights increased relative to steers over that period, Peel said.  Heifer carcasses averaged 84% of steer carcass weights until the 1970s, reaching 85% consistently by 1978.

Heifer carcasses reached 86% of steers by 1982 and in just five years shot up to 90%, he said.  By 1993, heifer carcasses were 91% of steers and by 1996 were 92% of steers.  The percentage hovered around 92% until 2009’s 92.2% and increased to 92.3% in 2010.

In December, 2017, the annual average heifer carcass weight reached 92.4% of steers and in February and March 2018, the 12-month moving average of heifer carcass weight was a new record of 92.5%.




No cattle sold Wednesday on the Livestock Exchange Video Auction, compared with sales two weeks previous at $122.40 per cwt.

Cash cattle trading started last week at $117 per cwt on a live basis on Tuesday and then dipped to $115 to $116 on Wednesday, down $5 to $7 from the previous week.  Thursday, sales were reported at $115 to $116.  Dressed-basis trades were reported at $184 to $185 per cwt, down $8.50 to $9.50.

The USDA choice cutout Monday was down $1.39 per cwt at $230.82, while select was off $0.94 at $207.52.  The choice/select spread narrowed to $23.30 from $23.75 with 75 loads of fabricated product sold into the spot market.

The CME Feeder Cattle index for the seven days ended Friday, was $133.63 per cwt, down $0.03.  This compares with Monday’s May close of $133.92, up $1.70.