Implications of first quarter beef cow slaughter

Beef cow slaughter is running at about equilibrium. Does that indicate expansion is over?

Nevil Speer

May 3, 2018

1 Min Read
Implications of first quarter beef cow slaughter

Beef cow slaughter is an important indicator of producer attitudes and impending cow inventory in the coming year. Accordingly, Industry At A Glance has been regularly reporting those numbers in recent years. This is an especially important measure as the industry has seemingly reached a critical juncture with respect to cowherd expansion.

This week’s graph provides an overview of first quarter beef cow slaughter during the past 10 years. Total beef cow liquidation is at 721,000 head thus far in 2018. That’s the largest total since 2013 when first quarter beef cow slaughter equaled 746,000 head. 

All of that, though, needs to be put into context of starting inventory. This year’s Jan. 1 beef cow inventory was marked at 31.7 million head. As such, the industry has liquidated about 2.27% of the cow herd through March, compared with 2.52% in 2013.

Nevertheless, from a historical perspective, slaughtering 2.27% of starting inventory is just about right at equilibrium. That is, while slaughter is well ahead of recent years, as a percentage, it appears that cow-calf operators are content with the size of their current herd, at least for now. 


That’s a significant signal. Perhaps we’re done expanding the cowherd and will peak around the current 31.7 million cows. Of course, that could all change given the enduring drought conditions in the Southwest and Southern Plains.

Related:2017 cow slaughter on track to maintain herd size

What’s your take on beef cow slaughter in 2018? Are you making plans for further expansion? If you’re in a drought area, what steps are you taking to manage inventory? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.   

Nevil Speer serves as an industry consultant and is based in Bowling Green, KY. Contact him at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Nevil Speer

Nevil Speer serves as an industry consultant and is based in Bowling Green, KY.

Nevil Speer has extensive experience and involvement with the livestock and food industry including various service and consultation projects spanning such issues as market competition, business and economic implications of agroterrorism, animal identification, assessment of price risk and market volatility on the producer segment, and usage of antibiotics in animal agriculture.
Dr. Speer writes about many aspects regarding agriculture and the food industry with regular contribution to BEEF and Feedstuffs.  He’s also written several influential industry white papers dealing with issues such as changing business dynamics in the beef complex, producer decision-making, and country-of-origin labeling.
He serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the National Institute for Animal Agriculture.
Dr. Speer holds both a PhD in Animal Science and a Master’s degree in Business Administration.

Contact him at [email protected].

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