Steer Slaughter Below 2017 Levels

Steer slaughter continues to run below year ago levels so far this year. This despite the fact that the quarterly feedlot inventories have shown more steers on feed in 2018 compared to last year. For the year to date, steer slaughter is about one percent below last year but in the last four weeks has averaged very close to year ago levels. Steer slaughter has averaged 51.6 percent of total cattle slaughter so far this year, down from 52.9 percent of total cattle slaughter in 2017. As heifer and cow slaughter return to normal levels, steer slaughter will move closer to the long term average of 50.6 percent of total slaughter.

Steer carcass weights have averaged about 4 pounds above year earlier levels so far this year. Weekly steer carcass weights may have peaked seasonally a bit early the first week of October at 903 pounds. Steer carcass weights averaged 895 pounds in the latest weekly data but could jump to a higher seasonal peak yet in November.

Heifer slaughter so far this year is averaging about seven percent above year ago levels with smaller year over year increases in recent weeks pulling the year to date total down to a smaller increase. In the last four weeks, heifer slaughter has averaged just 1.5 percent over year earlier levels. Heifer slaughter thus far in 2018 has averaged 27.8 percent of total cattle slaughter, up from 27.2 percent in 2017. As heifer retention continues to slow, heifer slaughter will approach the long term average just under 30 percent of total cattle slaughter.

Heifer carcass weights have averaged about 8 pounds heavier year over year for the year to date. Like steers, heifer carcass weights may have peaked seasonally at 835 pounds the first week of October. In the latest weekly data, heifer carcass weights were 828 pounds but could increase to a more typical seasonal peak in November. Heifer carcass weights continue to increase relative to steers. The latest twelve month moving average heifer carcass weight as a percent of steer carcass weight was another record at 92.7 percent.

Total cow slaughter is up 7.3 percent year to date with beef cow slaughter up 10.5 percent year over year as beef cow culling returns to long term average levels. Dairy cow slaughter has moved higher as months of poor dairy economics have pushed the dairy sector to reduce cow numbers somewhat. Dairy cow slaughter is currently up 4.3 percent year over year for the year to date. Cow slaughter is averaging 18.9 percent of total cattle slaughter so far in 2018 compared to a long term average of 17.7 percent of total slaughter. Cow carcass weights are averaging nearly five pounds heavier year over year with more dairy cows adding to cow carcass weights.

Total cattle slaughter is up 2.7 percent year over year thus far in 2018. Increased cattle slaughter, combined with an average of 2.3 pounds increase in cattle carcass weights, both contribute to a year to date increase in beef production of 2.7 percent year over year. Total 2018 beef production is projected to be 27.0 billion pounds, a new record beef production total for the U.S. Beef production is forecast to grow to another record level of 27.5 billion pounds in 2019.

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