Precipitation levels continue to drive the bred-female and replacement markets. Parts of Texas have been hit hard by drought conditions that have been classified as “extreme” to “exceptional” in intensity, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The Southeast and California are also experiencing severe drought conditions that impact producers’ ability to expand.  These regions account for almost a quarter of the nation’s cow herd.

The situation is more “black and white” when it comes to slaughter-cow prices, due mostly to the impact of dairy herd reduction. Overall U.S. cow herd inventory numbers are at historically low levels that have not been seen for 46 years, but cow slaughter continues to be high. Beef cow slaughter has remained approximately the same as last year, but dairy cow slaughter is up almost 30 percent.

In February, milk prices fell to $11.50 per hundredweight, which is the lowest level seen in more than five years and is down 40 percent from last year. The average price received by dairy producers for 2009 is expected to be $12.50 compared to $18.32 in 2008 and $19.13 in 2007. Milk prices have been one of the biggest drivers in sustaining the above-average slaughter rates as dairymen seek to reduce production levels. Cooperatives Working Together, an organization of dairy cooperatives and individual farmers, announced in mid-March that producers of 67 percent of the nation’s milk supply have signed up for the group’s herd-retirement program. Producers and member cooperatives pay a 10-cents-per-hundredweight assessment on milk production to fund the herd-reduction initiative. 

Dairy industry dynamics will continue to have an impact on the overall cow-slaughter market for the coming months. Additionally, even though demand for lean trim, which drove record-high slaughter-cow prices last fall, will likely remain high, the strengthening of the U.S. dollar means that more grinders will start sourcing imported trim.

March Prices

The Drovers’ auction market survey reports that bred-female prices were down slightly and ended March at $784.17 per head. Aged, bred-cow prices, however, were up in their monthly average price from $582.92 to $622.09. Offerings of bred heifers continued to be light but did increase slightly for the month of March, from $952.50 in February to $964.17.

Young and middle-aged, open females were down slightly, ending March at $56.82 per hundredweight. Prices for aged cows were up, ending the month at $47.63 per hundredweight. Heiferettes were relatively steady at $58.93.

Large pairs were steady compared to February prices and ended March at $915. Prices for small pairs were down and closed out at $834.38 compared to $878.50 last month. Small or aged cows were also down and averaged $617.50 in March.

Prices for canner and cutter cows were down slightly and closed out March at $37.46.  Utility and commercial cow prices were up from last month’s figure of $43.96 and ended the month at $44.57.