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Heavy cow harvest: Is herd liquidation nigh?

Cull cow prices higher

Waning dairy and beef cow slaughter, along with lighter carcass weights, are lifting cull cow prices above year-ago levels.

Long suffering cull cow prices are finally showing signs of life and may continue to improve, according to David Anderson, Extension livestock marketing specialist at Texas A&M University.

“Prices in the Southern Plains reached their high of the year, so far, at $54.36 per cwt at the end of August. That was 12.5% higher than a year ago,” Anderson explains, in the latest issue of In the Cattle Markets

In fact, cutter cow prices (90% lean) have been unable to breach $60 per cwt since September of 2017, according to analysts with the Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC), in the most recent Livestock Monitor,

“There is some good reason to think that prices may continue to be above a year ago,” Anderson says.

For one thing, dairy cow slaughter, which helped drive total cow slaughter to decade-high levels earlier in the year, is back to year-ago levels. Dairy cow slaughter over the last month was almost 1% less year over year, according to Anderson. 

As well, beef cow slaughter is showing signs of moderation following cyclical national herd inventory adjustment. For the last two months, Anderson says beef cow slaughter is also 1% less. 

In 2018, U.S. Federally Inspected cow slaughter was nearly 6.2 million head, according to LMIC. That was 405,000 head more (+7.0%) than the previous year and the most since 2013.

“Also tied to slaughter levels, it appears that U.S. cow slaughter capacity is limited, which contributed to low animal prices in recent years, especially in some regions of the country,” say LMIC analysts. They add that Australian drought helped increase U.S. imports of lean and manufacturing-grade beef, which is 8% higher year to date.

Lighter dressed cow weights are adding support. So far this year, Anderson says weights averaged 7.6 pounds less than the same time period last year.

“The overall effect has been less cow beef production in recent weeks, supporting the 90-lean fresh beef price, the wholesale cutout value, and the cull cow price,” Anderson says.

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