Slaughter cow prices have been on a roller coaster ride this year, and currently are about $10 per hundredweight below last year and $5 below the previous five year average, says North Dakota State University livestock economist Tim Petry.

While beef-cow slaughter has declined this year, the increase in dairy-cow slaughter has resulted in a total increase of 1.3 percent higher for the year so far. But, Petry notes, cow slaughter has dropped below year-ago levels in recent weeks, during a time when prices normally reach seasonal highs. Weak domestic demand, he says, is keeping a lid on cow prices as with other classes of cattle. Wholesale fresh, 90 percent lean, boneless beef prices, he says, are running $1.30 per pound compared to $1.80 last year, when all commodity prices had soared to high levels.

Petry also points out that low pork prices have offered stiff competition to beef. Wholesale fresh, 72 percent lean, pork trim is selling for 35 cents per pound compared to $1 last year.

In addition, imports of manufacturing grade beef, particularly from Australia, have increased back to historic levels as the dollar increased in value.

The Cooperatives Working Together (CWT) dairy herd retirement program, Petry notes,   is engaged in their second buyout of this year, sending 87,000 dairy cows and 3,200 bred heifers to market. The first herd retirement of 2009 removed 101,040 cows in late May, June and July, and CWT might offer a third buyout late in the year.

In addition to these factors, Petry says western Canadian provinces are experiencing abnormally dry conditions. If that dry pattern continues, Canadian cow imports, which so far are near last year’s levels, could increase.