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Beef demand keeps growing supply churning

Increased heifer and cow slaughter are helping dilute the effect of increasing cattle numbers.

“Despite strong beef production, prices continue to find support, due to domestic demand and international demand,” says Andrew P. Griffith, agricultural economist at the University of Tennessee, in his weekly market comments

Beef production was 2.19 billion pounds in September, according to the monthly USDA Livestock Slaughter report. That was 1% more than a year earlier. Cattle slaughter was 2% more year over year at 2.68 million head.  

Fed cattle carcass weights continue to be lighter year over year, too. The average dressed steer weight of 901 pounds for the week ending Oct. 12 was 2 pounds heavier than the previous week, but 2 pounds lighter than the same week last year, according to USDA’s weekly Actual Slaughter Under Federal Inspection report. 

The average dressed heifer weight of 828 pounds was 4 pounds heavier than the prior week, but 3 pounds lighter than a year earlier.

Increased heifer and cow slaughter are contributing to the weight decline.

“Federally inspected heifer slaughter through the first nine months of 2019 totaled 7.25 million head, which was an increase of 7.4% compared to the same months in 2018. Beef cow slaughter from January through September is 2.3% greater than 2019 and totals 2.30 million head,” Griffith says. 

“On the other hand, federally inspected steer slaughter is 1.9% lower through the first three quarters of 2019, when compared to the same timeframe in 2018, totaling 12.32 million head.”

Beef in freezers also suggests demand is managing the increased supplies. As of Sept. 30, total pounds of beef in freezers was 1% less than the previous month and 8% less than the same time last year, according to the monthly USDA Cold Storage report released Tuesday. 

Total commercial U.S. red meat production was record large for the month of September at 4.44 billion pounds, up 6% year over year. Keep in mind, there was one extra weekday in September this year.

Total red meat supplies in freezers were down 2% from the previous month and down 4% from last year. Frozen pork supplies were down 1% from the previous month but up 2% from last year.

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