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What are the implications of the long-term trend in steer carcass weights?

What are the implications of the long-term trend in steer carcass weights?
The beef industry has consistently added six pounds per year to fed steer carcass weights.

There’s been quite a bit of discussion and focus thus far in 2016 around fed cattle carcass weights. That’s because carcass weights typically peak in October and November (carcass weights peaked in late November 2015 at 925 pounds) and then begin to decline into the summer as more calf-feds enter into the slaughter mix. However, this year has seen a contra-seasonal spring uptick with steer carcass weights ratcheting back up near 900 pounds at the end of March – up 10 pounds versus just a month ago and over 25 pounds heavier than last year. 

From a near-term perspective, this trend is not surprising given the placement trends that occurred through 2015. Placement declines in 2015 were completely comprised of the three lightest categories (less than 600 pounds, 600-699 pounds, and 700-799 pounds) totaling 1.55 million head versus 2014. However, arrival of feeder cattle weighing more than 800 pounds was up over 500,000 head on a year-over-year basis. That has a direct impact on slaughter weights and carcass weights: heavy in, heavy out.

What happens over the course of the next few months, and the remainder of the year, remains to be seen. However, this week’s illustration highlights the reality that heavier carcass weights are anything but a new trend. In fact, the beef industry has consistently added about six pounds per year during the past 35 years.   

carcass weights

There are any number of explanations for bigger carcass weights over time, including genetics, economics, information, technology, knowledge and management. Perhaps the more pertinent question revolves around just how big carcass weights might get as we transition out of summer and into next fall’s slaughter mix.

There’ll be any number of variables driving that – most notably, placement trends and currentness. Nevertheless, it’s an important aspect to watch – just a few additional pounds make a dramatic difference in terms of overall beef production.  

Where do you see this long-term trend headed? Will the beef industry eventually plateau carcass weights, or simply continue to adapt to bigger, heavier slaughter cattle? What drivers might cause a leveling-off or reversal of the long-running trend? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Nevil Speer is based in Bowling Green, Ky., and serves as vice president of U.S. operations for AgriClear, Inc. – a wholly-owned subsidiary of TMX Group Limited. The views and opinions of the author expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the TMX Group Limited and Natural Gas Exchange Inc.


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