October posted a large increase in pork production, according to the USDA, with just a small increase in beef production.

Total cattle slaughter in October was up 0.6%, but an increase in cull cows helped boost beef production, according to economist Len Steiner and associates in their Daily Livestock Report.

“Steer and heifer slaughter in October was 2.281 million head, 0.4% lower than a year ago,” they said. “Analysts polled ahead of the USDA Cattle on Feed report also expected, on average, feedlot marketings in October to be down 0.4% from last year.

“In the last three months (August-October), fed cattle slaughter was 0.3% lower than a year ago, and this was entirely due to fewer steers coming to market.”

Over this same period, steer slaughter was down nearly 5% from a year ago, while heifer slaughter was up 7.6% from the previous year.

“In the last three years producers have consistently sent more heifers to market, reflecting the deteriorating margin picture for cow-calf operators,” Steiner and associates said. “What is a bit more puzzling is that steer slaughter has declined in the last couple of years despite an increase in the overall calf crop.

“So far this year, steer slaughter is down 2.3% compared to a year ago, and in 2018 steer slaughter was down 0.8% from 2017 levels.”

October’s pork data was predicted by USDA’s Hogs and Pigs report in September, according to Steiner and associates. Commercial hog slaughter was up a record 5.6% from a year ago.

“Barrow and gilt slaughter for the month was 11.933 million head, 6% higher than a year ago. Sow slaughter, on the other hand, was 277,000 head, about 0.8% lower than a year ago,” Steiner and associates said.

“Despite all the volatility in the market, hog producers appear to be bullish about forward pork demand and profitability, limiting the number of sows going to market.”

Sow slaughter since June 1 has been 0.4% lower than a year ago.

Steiner and associates said hog prices have grown slightly despite the production numbers.

“Pork prices performed far better than last year in October, in part due to a shift in the pork balance of trade,” they said, adding it will take time to know if the higher prices were the result of increased consumer demand or another factor.

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Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.