Heifer and beef cow slaughter levels surged during 2018. USDA estimates total heifer slaughter under federal inspection is 7.3% higher through October 2018 compared to the same period a year earlier. Beef cow slaughter in the same report was estimated to be 10.3% above 2017 for the first 10 months of last year. According to the Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC), despite substantial slaughter growth, the U.S. beef cowherd could show another year-over-year gain on the January 1, 2019, USDA report due to be released January 31.
The number of beef cows that have calved has grown by 2.6 million head since 2014. This growth pattern has resulted in larger calf crops and the economics have supported retaining a large number of heifers in recent years to continue adding to the beef cow inventory.
Over the last 30 years, the portion of total slaughter attributed to beef cows and heifers has been about 40%. In recent years, the cowherd has gained momentum as that portion fell to 35%. In 2018, the number of cows and heifers slaughtered as a percent of the January 1, 2018, inventory has risen back up to 38%. LMIC suggests this signals a return to more normal cull rates in 2018 and a slowdown in growth of the beef cowherd.
With two more months of slaughter data yet to be added for this year, LMIC is projecting the January 1, 2019, beef cowherd inventory will be 31.8 million head. That would represent a very modest growth rate of less than 1% from a year earlier.