Cattle in pasture

Trends in slaughter rates in female beef cattle could be offering some signposts about what is happening with beef cattle inventory. Slaughter rates are running higher.

“Year-to-date slaughter figures for federally inspected released beef cows and heifers have put up heavy numbers this year,” the Livestock Marketing Information Center said. “Federally inspected heifers are up 7% from a year ago in data released January through August, while beef cow slaughter is up 1.9%. Combined, this indicates that total female beef cow slaughter is up 5.7%.”

The last week of August saw heifer slaughter over 200,000, the highest weekly figure since June 2011.

“The climb in heifer slaughter offers a few signposts to the general beef cow inventory,” the Livestock Marketing Information Center said. “The first is that these are likely heifers that didn’t get bred. July’s Cattle on Feed report indicated that animals 900 pounds and heavier jumped 11.5% higher than a year ago. The U.S. does not break down each weight group by heifers and steers, but the large volume in the slaughter mix coupled with higher heavier placement weights could imply that some of those heavier cattle were female replacements that remain open.”

The center says if the high female number in slaughter rates continues, beef cow numbers could be on the decline.

“If these high volumes of females continue to enter the slaughter mix, beef cows on Jan. 1 would tally less than a year ago,” the Livestock Marketing Information Center said. “Extrapolating current year-to-date figures would indicate that slaughter is over 40% of the beef cows on Jan. 1 last year. This ratio is usually a key indicator to herd transitions and implies beef cows on Jan. 1 of next year could be down by more than half a percent.”

Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.