Cow and heifer slaughter still strong but declining

Upcoming USDA reports unlikely to show that herd liquidation has stopped.

Derrell Peel, Livestock marketing specialist

July 18, 2023

2 Min Read
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Heifer slaughter remained strong in the first half of 2023 but does show signs of declining going forward. For the first half of the year, total heifer slaughter was down 0.5% year over year with a decrease of over 4% in the month of June. 

The July "Cattle" report will be released by USDA on July 21 and the industry is looking to see if there are any indications that herd liquidation has ended, and herd rebuilding might begin. The report is expected to show that herd liquidation continued in the first six months of the year but may slow in the remainder of the year. There is no data currently to support the idea that heifer retention is underway, but it may have started with recent improvements in range and pasture conditions. 

The beef replacement heifer number in the upcoming report will be of keen interest and is likely to show a still smaller number compared to last year but could show a slight increase year over year if heifer retention has begun.

The cattle inventory report will show that the beef cow herd continued to decline in the first half of the year. While beef cow slaughter is down thus far…down 12.0% year over year in the first six months of the year…the current pace suggests a herd culling rate over 12% for the year. Beef herd expansion requires a herd culling rate below 10% and likely below 9% for a year or more. 

Beef cow slaughter is likely to decrease more significantly in the second half of the year but is unlikely to drop enough to come close to stabilizing the beef cow herd this year. Total cow plus heifer slaughter through June averaged 51.8% of total cattle slaughter. This percentage indicates continuing herd liquidation. Total female slaughter will drop below 45% of total slaughter during active herd expansion. This is unlikely to happen before 2024 at least.

The July "Cattle" report is expected to show that herd liquidation continued in the first half of the year. The report is unlikely to show definitive signs of strong heifer retention but could indicate the beginning of retention if the beef heifer inventory is down just slightly or possibly even up slightly. The monthly "Cattle on Feed" report, released the same day, will also include a quarterly breakdown of steers and heifers in feedlots. 

The number of heifers on feed decreased modestly compared to last year in the January and April data but a sharper decline in the number of heifers in feedlots in this July report would be the first significant data indication of heifer retention. 

In short, the upcoming reports are unlikely to show that herd liquidation has stopped but might provide indications that the situation will begin to stabilize in the remainder of the year.

About the Author(s)

Derrell Peel

Livestock marketing specialist, Oklahoma State University

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