In 2008, drought-motivated beef cow slaughter kept commercial cow slaughter high relative to January 1 inventories. In 2009, cost-driven dairy cow slaughter has kept commercial cow slaughter high. However, the increased commercial dairy cow slaughter has not offset the decline in commercial beef cow slaughter, leaving expected total commercial cow slaughter down by less than 1 percent for the first 9 months of 2009. Beef cow slaughter could increase seasonally over the next several weeks as cow-calf producers cull their herds prior to winter supplemental feeding.

While well ahead of same-quarter commercial cow slaughter in 2007, and despite the two Cooperatives Working Together (CWT) program whole-herd buyouts so far completed in 2009 and aimed at reducing milk production, third-quarter 2009 commercial cow slaughter appears to have declined year-over-year. In 2009, according to CWT statistics, the CWT programs have accounted for 175,153 head of the total commercial cow slaughter thus far in 2009.

Dairy cow slaughter for the first three quarters of 2009 has been 14 percent higher than the average for the last 10 years would indicate for typical culling. With the aid of some assumptions about culling rates and accounting for normal culling from CWT herds, about 6 of the 14 percentage points can be attributed to CWT cows. That is, assuming the last 10-year average culling rate would apply, dairy cow slaughter for the first three quarters of 2009 is projected to be about 8 percent higher than culling might have been under ordinary circumstances.

Current prospects for winter wheat pasture and other cool-season grazing appear favorable everywhere except South Texas, where drought persists despite recent rains, and the Southwestern United States, which is again becoming dry. Thus far, prices for lighter weight feeder cattle are gaining little support from cool-season pasture demand, and prices for feedlot-placement-weight feeder cattle declined in September 2009 over both August 2009 (down 4 percent) and September 2008 (down 12 percent).