Source: Tim Petry, Livestock Economist, North Dakota State University Extension Service

Cow prices, while historically strong, have been below last year’s record high levels for much of 2013. There are several reasons for the lower prices. Total cow slaughter was up 3.4% in the first half of 2013 compared to the previous year. In 2012, the meat industry was utilizing less trim from slaughter steers and heifers due to the lean fine textured beef media event. So, prices for 90% lean wholesale boneless beef from cows were record high in the first half of 2012. Higher beef imports in the first part of 2013 from drought impacted New Zealand also tempered cow prices.

Cow prices impacted by U.S. and world weatherSo far this year beef cow slaughter was up just under 3.4% while dairy cow slaughter was up over 3.4%. Beef cow slaughter actually declined about 10% in January and February but then increased about 12% compared to last year since then. The lingering drought in the Western U.S., above average calving losses due to severe spring snow storms in the Northern Plains, and record high hay prices likely contributed to the higher beef cow slaughter.

Dairy cow slaughter has been above last year’s levels for most of 2013. High feed costs and the closing of a Canadian cow slaughter plan have contributed to the higher slaughter. Through June 22, imports of cows from Canada totaled 147,785 head compared to 72,374 for the same period last year.

Through April, U.S. beef imports were 3.4% above 2012 due to a 35% increase in shipments of beef from drought impacted New Zealand. Australia is usually the leading beef supplier, but New Zealand is leading the way in 2013. Beef imports from all other countries including Australia were actually down 6% with Australian imports down almost 10%. Rains in New Zealand in late April and into May reduced dairy herd liquidation and beef exports there. May beef imports from New Zealand fell below last year and lead to total beef imports from all countries through May at 1% below 2012.

Cow prices in the second half of 2013 will continue to be impacted by weather and its effect on pasture and range conditions and hay supplies and prices. Moisture conditions are much better than last year in the Eastern half of the U.S., but the West remains very dry. For the week ending July 6, 49% of U.S. pastures and ranges were rated good and excellent compared to just 21% last year.  Twenty seven percent of pastures and ranges were poor and very poor compared to 50% last year.

USDA-NASS reported average U.S. alfalfa hay prices for June at $220 per ton, down from $221 in May but up from the $201 last year in June. Other hay prices for June were reported at $147, down from $154 in May and $162 in April but higher than the $133 in June 2012. Other hay in June ranged from a low price of $84/ton in North Dakota to a high of $230 in both Colorado and Washington.

If Mother Nature cooperates, the potential for both lower cow slaughter and beef imports in the second half of 2013 exists. That could support cow prices at higher levels than last year. However, an expansion of drought and continued high cow slaughter and high hay prices would pressure prices.

Cow prices impacted by U.S. and world weather

The Markets

Fed cattle prices were off just slightly last week. Across the 5 area market, liveweight steer prices averaged $120.10 per hundredweight down 47 cents for the week. Dressed weight prices declined just 24 cents to average $193.56 for the week. The boxed beef market was also off slightly as the July 4 holiday demand waned. Choice boxed beef prices averaged $196.95 down 69 cents for the week. The calf and feeder cattle market was quiet with seasonally low marketings and many livestock auctions were closed for the holiday. Some strength in prices was noted as new crop corn futures prices declined and distant live cattle futures prices strengthened. Corn prices in Omaha on Thursday were not reported due to the July 4 holiday.

Cow prices impacted by U.S. and world weather