CATTLE† WEIGHTS† UP/DOWN
Cattle carcass weights combine with head slaughtered to determine beef production. Compared to a year ago, cattle weights so far in 2014 have been both down and up, so letís briefly discuss the data and drivers. USDA-AMS calculates preliminary cattle weight on Fridays along with preliminary slaughter and production numbers. However, those weights are not based on recent actual data. Subsequently (for example, data for the week ending February 15th were released Thursday February 27th), USDA-NASS uses more detailed data weekly from processors to provide accurate weights. It is important to note that since the preliminary numbers are not based on recent data (those use an average of earlier weeks), they are always too high when dressed weights are decreasing, as has been the situation recently.
Looking at the actual slaughter data from USDA-NASS for cattle processed at Federally Inspected plants for the latest week (week ending February 15, 2014), average carcass weight for all animals was 802 pounds and unchanged from a year ago. So far this year, weekly weight has been equal to or above 2012ís. But, that average weight includes a mix of cattle: steers, heifers, cows, and bulls. For that same week, the average steer carcass weight was 862 pounds, down 8 pounds from a year ago. At 802 pounds, heifer average carcass weight was eight pounds below 2012ís. In contrast, the latest cow weight was up seven pounds compared to a year ago.
Cows and heifers weigh much less than steers and the proportion of those animals being harvested compared to all animals is down significantly, in turn the steer proportion of slaughter has been higher. So, the mix of cattle being slaughtered has been making average cattle weights not drop year-on-year like those for fed cattle (steers and heifers).
Recently, fed cattle weights have been down compared to a year ago due to three major factors: 1) more harsh winter weather, 2) aggressive marketing by feedlots due to high prices and packers need for cattle; and 3) removal of Zilmax (a beta agonist used last year by many feedlots).† In contrast, cow weights are up from 2012ís because: 1) nationally more abundant forage (hay and pasture); and 2) proportionally slightly more dairy cows in the slaughter mix compared to beef cows (beef cows tend to be smaller than dairy).†††† ††