Cattle producers are culling fewer cows due to the improved pasture prospects for this spring and the early part of the summer. This likely means fewer cows will be going to slaughter until the fall culling season. The paucity of cows for slaughter this spring, summer, and early fall will likely have implications for supplies of processing beef and ground beef production through summer 2015. First-half 2015 cow slaughter could be down 6 percent over first-half 2014, following a steeper 13- percent decline for 2014 over 2013. Reduced cow slaughter will likely support demand for imported processing beef. Heifers will also be more likely to be retained for breeding due to improvements in pasture conditions, which will leave feeder cattle in even shorter supply for placement on feed later.
Another consequence of the improved pasture situation is that feeder cattle will likely not come off pasture until late summer/early fall, many of them 9 Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook/LDP-M-252/June 16, 2015 Economic Research Service, USDA likely not until November when forage supplies diminish. This could reduce supplies of feeder cattle for placement on feed from now until fall, which could provide some support for feeder cattle prices.
The April 2015 placements of cattle on feed in 1,000-head-plus feedlots was lower than many industry analysts expected. Instead of sending cattle to feedlots, many producers are letting their animals graze on pasture longer. Placements of cattle weighing 800+ lbs totaled 640,000 head, continuing as the largest net placement category. Cattle feeders may find limited supplies of feeder cattle for placement in feedlots until grass cattle are sold off pastures in late summer/early fall. Marketings of fed cattle from 1,000-head-plus feedlots during April 2015, down 8 percent from April 2014, were the lowest April marketings since the series began in 1996. With feeder cattle prices at relatively high levels reflecting the relative scarcity of placement-weight feeder cattle, cattle feeders continue to experience negative margins as they find themselves sandwiched between high feeder cattle prices and fed cattle prices that have declined sharply.