Data for federally inspected slaughter through November 1 indicates that total cattle slaughter was down 7.2 percent for the year to date compared to last year. Cattle slaughter in October dropped further, down 9.2 percent year over year. Decreased cattle slaughter and changes in slaughter composition have implications for beef production and provide indications about herd rebuilding.
Steer slaughter for the year to date is down 3.4 percent. Steer slaughter has decreased less than any other cattle class and has averaged 52.1 percent of total cattle slaughter so far this year, up from 50.1 percent of total slaughter last year. A higher proportion of steer slaughter, combined with larger steer carcass weights, has helped limit beef production decreases to an estimated 6.0 percent for the year to date. However, steer slaughter dropped sharply in October, down 6.9 percent from one year ago. The October year over year decrease in steer slaughter was larger than the decrease in heifer slaughter, with steers making up 50.4 percent of total cattle slaughter in October.
Heifer slaughter so far this year has decreased 8.7 percent, with heifers accounting for 28.2 percent of total cattle slaughter, down one half percent from last year. October heifer slaughter was down 6.3 percent, with heifers making up 30.6 percent of cattle slaughter. Steer and heifer combined slaughter is down 5.3 percent for the year to date and was down a stronger 6.7 percent in October. Last year, annual heifer slaughter was down 1.48 percent from 2012 and in October was up over 5 percent from the previous year. This indicates that heifer retention was pre-empted in 2013 and that intended replacements were diverted into feedlots due to drought conditions, showing up as increased heifer slaughter late in the year. The sustained decrease in heifer slaughter in 2014 is an indication of more success in heifer retention this year.
Total cow slaughter is down 14.5 percent so far this year with dairy cow slaughter down 10.9 percent and beef cow slaughter down 18.1 percent for the year to date. Cow slaughter is a smaller percentage of cattle slaughter this year with total cow slaughter representing 17.9 percent of total slaughter, down from 19.5 percent one year ago. October beef cow slaughter was down 20.6 percent compared to last year. This follows a 6.4 percent year over year decrease in beef cow slaughter in 2013, most of which occurred as a 14 percent year over year decrease in the second half of last year. The 20.6 percent beef cow slaughter decrease in October, 2014 follows a 16.4 percent year over year decrease in October, 2013 leading to a whopping 33.4 percent drop from October, 2012. Net beef herd culling (beef cow slaughter as a percent of January 1 beef cow herd inventory) has averaged 9.7 percent from 1986-2013, the period in which beef and dairy cow slaughter have been reported separately. In the last six years since 2008, beef cow culling has been higher, ranging from 10.5 percent to a record 12.3 percent in 2011. At the current pace of beef cow slaughter, net herd culling will likely fall below 9 percent in 2014 and may stay below the long term average for several more years.