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Implications of first quarter beef cow slaughter

May 2018 Cow Slaughter Outlook
Beef cow slaughter is running at about equilibrium. Does that indicate expansion is over?

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.

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]

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