Sort & Cull

Concrete Signs of Cow Liquidation

John Harrington
By  John Harrington , DTN Livestock Analyst

While readily admitting the danger of generalizing from too few particulars, I think number-crunchers received the first hard evidence of regional beef herd liquidation this week. According to the weekly slaughter report released on Thursday, federally inspected cow slaughter for the week ending June 17 totaled 111,400 head, 6.8% greater than the prior year and 16.1% larger than the 2014-16 average.

Drilling a bit deeper, the week's data identified an even bigger sore thumb sticking out from the seasonal trend line. Mid-month beef cow slaughter surged to 57,800 head, 16.7% above 2016 and nearly 25% larger than the 3-year average.

Those of us who have been hearing stories and seeing pictures of pasture distress from parts of the Northern Plains are not surprised that such a statistic shoe has finally dropped. Although this week's report declined to itemized slaughter for Region 8 (including Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming) for reasons of confidentiality, I feel safe in guessing that the bleak reality of extreme drought in parts of this area forced a disproportionately large contribution to the total hike in beef cow slaughter.

The most recent pasture rating released earlier this week continued to identify deteriorating grass in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. For the week ending June 25, the whole of pasture and range in these three states was judged to be "fair or better" no more than 39, 47 and 74%, respectively. For whatever it's worth, the National Weather Service's most recent 6-10 day forecast for this troubled area calls for above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation.

Maybe this slaughter spike is just a blip on the radar, suggesting very little in terms of the long-term dynamics of national herd populations. Yet these three states constitute a sizable tail for total U.S. numbers. As of January 1, 2017, they corralled 4.04 million beef cows, which is roughly 13% of the country entire herd.

In short, I think the cow slaughter chart is worth monitoring closely over the next month or so, especially with the dog days of summer still working toward full pant.

John Harrington can be reached at

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