The beef cow inventory has been in expansion mode since 2015, with inventories on Jan. 1, 2015, 2016 and 2017 increasing at rate of 0.7-percent, 2.9-percent, and 3.5-percent respectively.
However, the pace of beef cow and heifer slaughter suggests that the rate of expansion may have slowed in 2017, USDA predicted in its latest Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook report.
Beef cow slaughter through October 2017 was 11 percent higher than the same period in 2016. Preliminary federally inspected beef cow slaughter in November has also been fairly strong and higher than November last year.
Heifer slaughter has also seen a 12-percent increase through October 2017, while steer slaughter has only increased by about 3 percent.
Slaughter weights declining
While cattle on feed and placements on feed continue to climb, feedlots appear to be moving cattle as they are ready for market. Marketings of fed cattle during October were 6 percent above the same period in 2016. As marketing remained relatively high, the percentage of cattle on feed more than 120 days was below 2016.
The November 2017 Livestock Slaughter report shows that average dressed weights were 826 pounds, down 17 pounds from October 2016. Carcass weights for both steers and heifers were below year-earlier in October, and preliminary data points to a similar situation in November.
Fourth-quarter 2017 production was lowered from last month due to lighter carcass weight and a slower pace of slaughter through yearend.
Average dressed weights for cattle remain well below the same period in 2016. In addition to the lighter carcass weights for both steers and heifers, their composition of the slaughter mix has likely influenced average dressed weights.
The proportion of heifers and cows slaughtered relative to total slaughter has increased relative to last year, and heifers and cows are typically smaller and yield lower carcass weight than steers.