Typically, beef cow culling peaks, nationally, during the last few weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. The rapid pace of cow culling was documented in SAT back in early September, focusing on the South. At that time, there was some hope that the pace of culling might slow in the Fall due to large numbers sent to market earlier. Those hopes have failed to materialize as beef cow slaughter hit 84,800 head for the week ending October 22nd. That is the largest weekly beef cow slaughter since the week of November 19th, 2011.
Total beef cow culling is up 364,000 head in 2022 over 2021. All of the increase comes from states in the Southern half of the U.S. and the Plains. Slaughter in Region 6, which includes Texas and Oklahoma, is up 207,000 head over last year. Region 7, including Kansas and Nebraska is 171,000 head above 2021. Slaughter is up 59,000 head in the deep South and 12,000 head in the Southwest. Beef cow slaughter is lower than last year in the rest of the country. Increased culling continues to largely coincide with areas experiencing drought. Costs increasing faster than calf prices have also encouraged culling.
Cow prices typically bottom out in the Fall, as slaughter peaks, and this year is no exception. Prices have fallen below a year ago in local auctions in drought hit areas, especially for thin, lean cows. Prices have been as much as 20 percent above a year ago, even though trending lower, in local auctions away from drought areas and for cull cows in better shape.
Watch for beef cow slaughter in the coming weeks to see if it maintains an 85,000 head per week pace. The more sent to market now means an even larger decline in the cowherd for next year and higher prices to come.
Author: David Anderson
Professor and Extension Economist Livestock and Food Products Marketing, Dairy, Policy