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Beef cattle slaughter in the southeast

published: December 1st 2021
by: Josh Maples
source: Mississippi State University Department of Ag Economics

Beef cow slaughter has been higher than year-ago levels for most weeks in 2021. Year to date, national beef cow slaughter (chart below) is up 10 percent over the same period of 2020. That 10 percent increase translates to an additional 6,000 head weekly average. Higher feed costs and drought have contributed to this increase in beef cows culled nationally which is worthy of an article on its own. However, in this article we look specifically at beef cow slaughter in the southeast region.

Beef cow slaughter is up sharply in recent weeks over 2020 levels in the southeast reporting region (region 4, chart below) which includes AL, FL, GA, KY, MS, NC, SC & TN. This region accounts for about 15 percent of national beef cow slaughter. To avoid the most significant pandemic disruptions in spring 2020, I use data from July to November in 2020 and 2021. For that 20 week period, beef cow slaughter in region 4 is 25 percent higher in 2021 than it was during the same period of 2020. That is equivalent to an additional 2,000 head each week on average.

There has been some additional cow processing capacity brought online in the southeast during 2021 which helps explain the weekly increase in slaughter. But a key question is where are the cows coming from? Are producers in the southeast culling cows deeper than previously expected? We don’t know exactly where the cows are coming from based on the data available, but weekly auction receipts shed some light on the questions.

I pulled weekly slaughter cattle auction receipts for three of the eight states in region 4 – GA, KY, and MS (I don’t have the same data for the other five states in the same format). For these three states, auction receipts for slaughter cattle (reported as both cows and bulls) are up 3 percent since July compared to the same period of 2020. That 3 percent increase equals an additional 128 head weekly average across those three states. The data are messy, so it is important not to put too much weight on any one piece. However, the weekly auction receipts from these states don’t suggest a large enough increase in the number of cows being culled in the southeast to support the big increase in beef cow slaughter in the region. Arkansas is not in region 4, but the number of slaughter cattle auction receipts is down 1 percent compared to the same period in 2020.

It seems likely that a good portion of the increase in beef cow slaughter in the southeast region are cows coming from other regions. Backhauling cows is likely a key contributor since many calves or feeder cattle are trucked from the southeast to other regions. We will get a better estimate of the number of beef cows in each state when the annual cattle inventory report is released in January. The beef cow herd in the southeast probably has shrunk over the past year. Producers in the region have faced higher input costs and multiple years of tight margins. But the beef cow slaughter numbers in the region likely overstate the level of cow culling in the region.

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