Calves at mineral feeder

Daily slaughter data through July 17, the first 170 days of the year, has a total cattle slaughter of 17.94 million head, compared to 17.07 million head in 2020 and 17.87 million head for the year-to-date in 2019. Yearling (steer + heifer) slaughter makes up 78.5 percent of total cattle slaughter at 14.09 million head thus far in 2021.

Average weekly yearling slaughter the first 28 weeks of 2021 is 501,392 head, fractionally higher than for same period in 2019. However, Monday-Friday (M-F) slaughter thus far in 2021 has averaged 2.7 percent lower than 2019 and is covered by a 31.0 percent increase in Saturday slaughter of steers and heifers. The 2021 average Saturday yearling slaughter total is 50,430 head compared to 38,492 head in 2019. Saturday slaughter accounts for 10.4 percent of total yearling slaughter in 2021 compared to 7.6 percent of slaughter for the same period in 2019.

The daily M-F yearling slaughter has averaged 91,471 head in 2021, ranging from a Monday average of 90,110 head to a Thursday average of 92,699 head. The challenges for packers to maintain consistent slaughter levels is apparent. Single day maximum slaughter totals range from 95,580 head (Wednesday, July 7) to the single biggest slaughter day this year at 97,282 head (Tuesday, February 23). On average, daily yearling slaughter was at 95 percent of the daily maximum. The sum of daily maximums for Monday - Friday suggest that it is possible to slaughter 561,607 head in a week but the weekly maximum thus far in 2021 is 537,447 (week ending May 22), indicating the challenge of maintaining slaughter across a full week. The labor challenges for packers are particularly acute on Mondays, which have the lowest daily average slaughter level in 2021 and are much more variable. Monday slaughter totals are 8 times more variable than Thursdays, which has the smallest standard deviation of daily slaughter. Thus, Monday slaughter averages 90,110 with a daily range from 57,928 to 95,727 head while Thursday averages 92,699 head ranging from 85,600 to 96,907 head. It should be noted that the Monday low of 57,928 head occurred during the massive winter storm in mid-February when numerous plant operations were disrupted.

Steer carcass weights in the latest data are 888 pounds, down 11 pounds year over year. This follows the sharp increase in carcass weights in 2020. Current steer carcass weights are 23 pounds heavier than this date in 2019. Current heifer carcass weights are 813 pounds, down 16 pounds from 829 pounds last year but up 22 pounds from the same date in 2019.

Cattle carcass weights will rise seasonally in the remainder of the year but are expected to remain lower year over year. Lower steer and heifer carcass weights likely reflects several influences including feedlots becoming more current in marketings, higher feed prices and perhaps a return to longer term carcass weight trends. Beef production for the remainder of 2021 is predicted to be four to five percent lower year over year as a result of lower slaughter totals and lighter carcass weights. 

(Derrell S. Peel is a livestock marketing specialist for Oklahoma State University.)

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