The fall cow culling season is upon us.  The weeks from mid-October through mid-December typically has the highest beef cow slaughter of the year (except for Thanksgiving week), with most of the increase in the four weeks prior to Thanksgiving.  Whether or not we follow the typical seasonal pattern for the remaining weeks of the year will determine whether or, more likely, how much net beef cow herd liquidation has occurred in 2012.  There are reasons to argue that fall cow culling will be less than normal, more than normal, or just about average.

Much of the challenge of determining what is happening with the beef cow herd in 2012 comes from the fact that we are comparing to a very unusual base in 2011.  For the year to date, beef cow slaughter is down nearly 13 percent from the drought enhanced 2011 level.  The year over year total has been falling in recent weeks with sharply lower beef cow slaughter this summer.  Since mid-July beef cow slaughter has been down 20 percent from 2011, thus pulling down the year to date totals.  A comparison to 2010 may be more revealing; the 2012 year to date total is down 9.6 percent from 2010, while the summer period is down 4.2 percent. 

It is hard to isolate obvious drought impacts in the 2012 beef cow slaughter so far, though there is no doubt that there are some effects.  The current slaughter rate suggests that net beef cow culling rate for the year will be about 11 percent.  This value depends on both total beef cow slaughter for the year and also the rate at which replacement heifers entered the herd.  The long term average beef cow slaughter rate is 9.6 percent and is typically higher than this level during liquidations and lower during herd expansions.  Given the year to date slaughter totals, beef cow slaughter would have to drop to about 50 percent of last year for the remaining weeks of the year to lower total beef cow slaughter to pull cow culling down enough to prevent net beef cow herd liquidation.  That seems very unlikely.  Fall beef cow culling could be lower than usual if the drought forced significant early cow culling leaving fewer cows to be culled in the traditional seasonal peaks.  On the other hand, fall cow culling could increase more than seasonally in the next few weeks if producers have not yet culled enough cows to match limited hay supplies.  The situation is quite murky right now but the next four or five weeks of cow slaughter data may provide a better look at what to expect for net changes in the beef cow herd in 2012.

Source: Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist