Cattle Outlook: Slaughter numbers indicate shrinking herds

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The average retail price of choice beef in July was record high at $5.357 per pound, up 6.3 cents from June, up 34.4 cents from July 2012, and up 5.7 cents from the old record set in March of this year. The average price for all fresh beef was also record high at $4.956/lb. Beef production in the first half of 2013 was the lowest since 2005. July pork prices also set new records.

Hereford Cattle USDA's latest Cold Storage report says there was 464 million pounds of frozen beef at the end of July. That was down 3.6% from the month before, up 0.6% from a year ago, and down 11.7% from the record set at the end of October 2002.

During the first 7 months of 2013, steer slaughter was down 1.0% and heifer slaughter was down 2.1%. Cow slaughter was up 2.1%, or 76,000 head, compared to the same period last year. Heifer slaughter was down by 21,500 head relative to steer slaughter. The increase in cow slaughter more than offsets the reduction in heifer slaughter implying the breeding herd continues to shrink.

As of August 18, 61% of corn acres were rated in good or excellent condition. That is down 3 points from the week before, but up 38 points from a year ago. On August 18, 28% of pastures were rated poor or very poor. That is unchanged from the week before, but down from 31 points poor or very poor a year ago.

Fed cattle prices were mixed on light volume this week. Through Thursday, the 5-area average price for slaughter steers sold on a live weight basis was $123.44/cwt, down 42 cents from last week, but up $3.13 from the same week last year. Steer prices on a dressed basis averaged $197.65/cwt this week, up 79 cents from a week ago and up $10.20 from a year ago.

This morning, the boxed beef cutout value for choice carcasses was $195.94/cwt, up $1.95 from the previous Friday and up $2.29 from a year ago. The select carcass cutout is at $184.60/cwt, down $1.57 for the week and down 21 cents from the same day last year. The choice-select spread, $11.35, was up $3.53 for the week.

This week's cattle slaughter totaled 634,000 head, up 2.3% from last week, but down 2.8% from a year ago. The average steer dressed weight for the week ending on August 10 was 867 pounds, up 1 pound from the week before and up 5 pounds from a year ago.

Oklahoma City feeder cattle auction prices this week were $1 to $3 higher for steers and steady to $1 higher for heifers with prices for medium and large frame #1 steers: 400-450# $200, 450-500# $187-$194, 500-550# $181-$193.50, 550-600# $163-$184, 600-650# $155-$171.50, 650-700# $151-$168.50, 700-750# $145.25-$163.75, 750-800# $145.50-$158, 800-900# $145-$154, and 900-1000# $138.50-$144.75/cwt.

The August live cattle futures contract closed at $123.10/cwt today, down 80 cents from last week's close. October fed cattle settled at $126.70, December at $129.22/cwt.

Source: Ron Plain and Scott Brown

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