Average slaughter weights for livestock and poultry so far this year have been somewhat of a mixed bag, which may surprise some people given well above a year ago feedstuff costs. Steer and heifer carcass weights have generally been heavier than a year ago, while slaughter cow weights have been down. Hog weights on the other hand, have been averaging well below last year. Lamb weights have been similar to 2007’s but quite variable, while calf slaughter weights have been considerably lower than last year.
On a weekly basis, steer dressed weights started off the year slightly less than 2007’s but rose rather quickly and have posted a year-to-year increase each week since mid-January. Unlike prior years, the seasonal decline in steer weights was rather sluggish as steer weights didn’t noticeably decline until April and even then, there were some weeks that average weights posted year-to-year gains. By early May, steer carcass weights bottomed out at an average 810 pounds versus 796 pounds in 2007. Thus far this year, steer weights on a weekly average basis were one percent over last year. Heifer weights have followed a similar pattern compared to steers, with weekly dressed weights through mid-July averaging 2 percent heavier than last year. Despite higher grain prices, heavier dressed weights are mostly indicative of heavier placement weights and rather good cattle feeding conditions as indicated by feedlot performance measures mostly better than last year.
In contrast to steer and heifer weights, slaughter cow weights have been below a year ago each week of 2008. From January through mid-July cow dressed weights averaged 7 pounds below a year ago. Three factors have kept cow slaughter weights down; 1) high feedstuff costs have sent many beef cows directly to slaughter with limited extra feeding; 2) relatively more beef cows are being slaughtered than dairy cows (beef cows typically weigh less than dairy cows at slaughter); and 3) cull cow prices have been strong due to increased demand for hamburger and a reduction in U.S. beef import tonnage.
After starting off the year above a year ago, hog dressed weights declined seasonally averaging slightly near a year ago through mid-April. From mid-April into July, hog carcass weights declined a little more than the seasonal norm. On a weekly basis, barrow and gilt carcass weights were at 203 pounds in early January; by mid-July average weights had fallen to 192 pounds, which represented a five percent or 11-pound decline. As of mid-July, barrow and gilt carcass weights were two pounds below a year ago. Still, as of mid-July, compared to the 2002-2006 average, barrow and gilt weights are up one percent. The recent decline in barrow and gilt weights can be attributed not only higher feeding costs, but also aggressive marketings in response to high hog prices driven by robust export demand.