Beef slaughter weights declining

Higher cattle prices and increasing costs for feeding cattle are helping send cattle to market at lighter weights this spring, and in some cases, the decrease is dramatic.

U.S. beef production through the first quarter of 2011 was 3 percent higher than last year, and last month's average slaughter weight of 1,276 pounds was 3 pounds higher than March 2010. But last month's average slaughter weight was 10 pounds less than February, 25 pounds less than January, and 29 pounds lighter than cattle harvested in December.

Cattle feeders are encouraged to sell cattle as soon as possible when feed costs are high, and the same is true during a period of increasing prices. March and April of this year seem to support those generalizations.

Among the leading slaughter states, Kansas reports the largest decline in slaughter weights 23 pounds lower in March than in February, and 51 pounds lower than January's 1,311 pounds. Further, the Kansas slaughter weight of 1,260 pounds reported for March is 62 pounds lighter than the 1,322-pound average slaughter weight USDA reported for December.

Here's a breakdown of average slaughter weights in four of the largest slaughter states and the U.S. averages since December.

Beef slaughter weights declining