Total beef production for the year to date is down 1.3% and total slaughter is down 2.1% compared to the same period last year, according to a report from Derrell Peel, extension livestock specialist with Oklahoma State University.
Peel said beef production and slaughter have been larger in recent weeks. He said the aggregated total is down less than expected as a result of increased cow slaughter, which is up 1.2% over a year ago. But year-to-date, slaughter of steers, heifers and bulls are all down from last year.
Several factors are at work including unexpected beef herd liquidation and structural change in the North American dairy industry, which are responsible for the uptick in cow slaughter numbers.
The closure of a major cow slaughter plant in Quebec, Canada, last year has impacted U.S. cow slaughter and cattle and beef trade flows between the U.S. and Canada. A significant part of the 4.4% increase in dairy cow slaughter this year is likely due to increased imports of Canadian dairy cows. Previously these cows were slaughtered in Canada and much of the processing beef shipped to the U.S., Peel noted.
After five weeks of year-over-year increases, beef cow slaughter in the U.S. is only down 2.1% so far this year. Unexpected beef herd liquidation is implied by the fact that beef cow slaughter has been up nearly 14% for the last five weeks. It appears that winter has been too much for some producers. Hay is expensive and in short supply and apparently beyond the reach of some producers recently, Peel noted.
With improvement in drought conditions in many regions recently, warm weather and the beginning of forage growth should result in beef cow slaughter falling sharply in the coming weeks. However, the damage may be done as far as herd inventory goes.
Larger than expected beef cow slaughter so far this year, combined with indications that more heifers may have entered feedlots this spring (probably the result of the same liquidation) may have already erased any chances of avoiding additional beef cow herd liquidation this year.
Beef cow slaughter rates the next few weeks and the mid-year heifer on feed inventory may provide some clues about herd inventory changes but complete data will not be available until next year.