Beef production for the year to date in 2015 is down 4.4 percent.  This follows last year’s 5.7 percent year over year decrease in beef production from 2013.  Total cattle slaughter so far this year is down 6.6 percent from one year ago and follows the 7.1 percent annual decrease in 2014 from 2013.  Offsetting decreased cattle slaughter are cattle carcass weights averaging 820 pounds for the year to date; an increase of nearly 20 pounds year over year.  Carcass weights increased 12 pounds year over year in 2014.   2015 beef production is projected to be down on an annual basis compared to 2014 but just how much down depends on both slaughter levels and carcass weights among the various classes of cattle.

Steer slaughter so far this year is down 3.8 percent from the same period in 2014, similar to the 2014 year over year decrease of 3.9 percent from 2013.  Steer slaughter has been down in 2015 despite a larger inventory of steers on feed.  The quarterly steer on-feed inventory was up 5.4 percent on April 1 and up 7.1 percent on July 1.  In the last three weeks of slaughter data, steer slaughter is down 0.5 percent from the same period last year.  If the recent rate should persist till the end of the year, annual steer slaughter would be down 2.6 percent for the year.  Steer slaughter may move above year earlier levels in the last part of the year.  However, steer slaughter for the remainder of the year would have to exceed 7 percent above year earlier levels in order for steer slaughter to be higher for the entire year, which is unlikely.

Steer carcass weights for the year to date are averaging 877 pounds, up 17.5 pounds from the same period one year ago. Weekly carcass weights were 905 pounds in the most recent data, almost equal to the seasonal high of 906 pounds last November.  Steer carcass weights averaged a record level of 900 pounds in the fourth quarter of 2014.  Having already exceeded that level in August, it remains to be seen just how large steer carcass weights may average for the remainder of 2015.

Heifer slaughter for the year to date is down 12.1 percent compared to one year ago.  Heifer slaughter in 2014 was down 8.3 percent year over year.  The April 1 heifer on feed inventory was down 10.1 percent and was down 7.5 percent on July 1.  In the last three weeks of slaughter data, heifer slaughter was down 18.3 percent from the same period one year ago. If the recent rate persisted to the end of the year, annual heifer slaughter would be down over 14 percent.   While heifer slaughter is not likely to be down that much for the rest of the year, the heifer retention underway this year ensures that heifer slaughter will be sharply lower this year.  Heifer carcass weights have averaged 806 pounds for the year to date, up 15.7 pounds from the same period in 2014.  Weekly heifer carcass weights have been as high as 814 pounds recently.  Heifer carcass weights averaged 824 pounds in the fourth quarter of 2014. 

Cow slaughter includes both beef and dairy cows.  Beef cow slaughter so far this year is down 17.3 percent compared to last year.  This follows an 18.1 percent year over year decrease in beef cow slaughter in 2014.  Beef cow slaughter continues at very low levels with the last three weeks of data showing an 18.7 percent year over year decrease compared to the same period in 2014.  Though beef cow slaughter will increase seasonally in the fourth quarter, it is likely to remain well below year ago levels.  Dairy cow slaughter in 2015 is up 3.7 percent for the year to date, compared to a 9.9 percent year over year decrease in 2014.  Dairy cow slaughter appears to be moderating with a rate of 2.6 percent higher the last three weeks compared to the same period last year.  If the recent rate persists for the remainder of the year, dairy cow slaughter would be up 2.5 percent for the year.  However, further moderation of dairy cow slaughter in the fourth quarter may pull the annual dairy cow slaughter total down to a smaller year over year increase.  Total cow slaughter is down 6.5 percent for the year to date compared to last year.

Cow carcass weights have averaged 650 pounds so far in 2015; 22 pounds higher than the same period last year.  This sharp increase in cow carcass weights reflects the higher proportion of dairy cows (with heavier carcass weights) in the cow slaughter total this year.  Cow carcass weights have moderated recently to weekly level of 636 pounds. The seasonal increase in beef cow slaughter in the fourth quarter will likely further moderate average cow carcass weights for the remainder of the year.  

Total 2015 cattle slaughter is projected to be down 4.5 to 5.0 percent for the entire year.  Increased steer, heifer and cow carcass weights are expected to push average cattle carcass weights about 2 percent higher than last year.  Total beef production is projected to be 2.5 to 3.0 percent lower than 2014; which would be the lowest total U.S. beef production since 1993.