We knew it would happen as the consecutive days without rain continued on and on this summer. And judging by the numbers, cow slaughter did increase substantially. October cow slaughter numbers were not available by press time but September slaughter records were. Weekly average cow slaughter during September 2000 was 53,400 head-4,200 head per week larger than August 2000. Weekly cow slaughter is still smaller than a year ago-2,600 head smaller per week-but is still significant as this was potentially the year cowherd numbers were going to level off. Lingering affects of drought are forcing producers to cull more deeply than desired but over all herd reduction continues to be affected a great deal by heifer placements on feed.
Drought conditions have added pressure to a seasonal trend in
slaughter cattle that normally declines $3 to $4 from August to November. The five-year trend foretells of higher salvage prices in January, a price dip in February and then a resumed price increase on into spring. Higher prices may make buying feed and marketing culls a few months later appealing.

Opportunity to add herd numbers?

Prices for production animals, bred females and cow-calf pairs, followed
the seasonal trend lower during October and probably will last at least until January 2001. However, overall value and demand for cows has probably stabilized thanks to the bright outlook for profitability in the cow-calf sector for the next two to three years. In actuality, offerings of production females has been light nationally. A positive outlook dictates that herd reductions are first achieved by culling deeper and marketing replacement heifers as feeders. If you can find production females, now may your best opportunity to expand for the next couple of years. The midpoint value of bred females during October is only $10 lower than the previous month. The high end of the price range, however, seems to be much lower. Quality young and middle aged bred cows generally reached highs of $900 in March and April. This fall the high-end commercial bred cow prices seem to hang much closer to $700 according to Drovers Female Market summary.

But buying cows just because you are blessed with plenty of feed this winter is not to be done lightly. Pencil it out first. While this may be your best chance for a while, production females are going to cost you a lot more now than any time in the past 4 years of the cattle cycle. A look at the midpoint value of bred heifers for the first 10 months of 2000 compared to the first 10 months of 1999 reveals that their average value is over $100 more than one year ago.