John Nalivka: A few thoughts on cow and heifer slaughter data as the end of the year approaches
Federally inspected slaughter numbers reported weekly are some of the most reliable data released by USDA. Consequently, these figures provide a good cross-check against the reported cattle on feed inventories and are an indicator of decisions made concerning the breeding herd. So, let’s take a look at cow and heifer slaughter and what that might suggest with regard to herd decisions.
The most recent weekly slaughter through the week ending November 7 indicates that total cow slaughter is down 2% from a year ago and both years are the highest since 2012. While that is a start, we need to dig deeper and look at the breakdown between dairy and beef cows to get an idea of what is taking place in both industries. Dairy cow slaughter is down 5% year-to-date (Nov. 7) from a year earlier and last year’s dairy cow slaughter for the same period was the highest since 1986. In fact, that was the highest dairy cow slaughter since FSIS/USDA began separating dairy and beef cow slaughter statistics. Remember the 1984 Dairy Termination Program? Milk prices drive dairy cow slaughter and last year’s increase was no exception.
Shifting over to the beef side, beef cow slaughter, year-to-date, is up 2% from a year ago when it was the highest since 2012, a severe drought year. In fact, the percentage of dairy cows, year-to-date, are the lowest since 2012 and shows that beef cow slaughter has continued to be high this year. In short, cattlemen have sent a lot of beef cows to the packing plant this year.
Heifer slaughter, the other indicator of breeding herd decisions, is down 4% year-to-date from a year ago. While there is still 7 weeks of actual slaughter data to be considered, I would suggest, that this year’s heifer slaughter will remain well below a year ago. Those last 7 weeks of the year in 2019 posted the highest heifer slaughter since 2007 and I don’t think the last 7 weeks of this year will surpass that figure. In fact, for 2020 heifer slaughter to equal 2019’s heifer slaughter, the last 7 weeks of this year would have to be the highest in my database going back to 1989.
So, what does it all mean – a 1% smaller cow inventory for January 1, 2021, but at the same time, I believe that there were an increased number of heifer retained as replacements from both the 2019 and the 2020 heifer calves. Consequently, both cow and heifer slaughter will decline during 2021 as the size of the breeding herd stabilizes.