Beef inventory second lowest on record

Jeff Swenson

Prepared and written by Jeff Swenson, DATCP Livestock and Meat Specialist. The Market Update draws information from several sources, including trade publications, radio broadcasts, agricultural news services, individuals involved in the industry as well as USDA NASS and AMS reports.

Jeff Swenson

There were two main questions prior to release of the Jan. 1 USDA Cattle Inventory Report. First, would the nation’s beef cow herd drop below 29 million head? And second, would the decrease be large enough to put the herd at a record low?

Beef cow inventory to start the year was reported 4% below 2022 at 28.9 million head. While that isn’t the lowest on record, it is the second lowest, and the lowest since 2014. Wisconsin’s beef herd dropped by 15,000 cows, a loss of 5%. Iowa’s herd also decreased by 5% from 905,000 to 860,000. Minnesota’s inventory remained steady, and Illinois gained 1%.

Wisconsin’s cattle on feed inventory also decreased from 270,000 to 240,000 head. The national cattle of feed inventory was 4% below a year ago. Wisconsin’s dairy herd was 5,000 head smaller than 2022 at 1.27 million cows, a decrease of less than 1%. The cash fed cattle market last week was called $1.20/cwt lower, although there were reports of higher bids in some parts of the country late in the week.

Prices at Wisconsin and surrounding state auction markets appeared to be fully steady to start the week. The Choice beef cutout value has been under pressure, finishing last week at $267.76, a loss of $4.95 for the week. Packers were able to put together a good harvest run last week, with an estimate of 659,000 head, making it 13,000 head higher than the previous week and 4,000 more than the same week last year.

Cattle feeding margins tightened for the week ending Jan. 28, with average profits at $15 per head, a decline of $45 from the previous week according to the Sterling Beef Profit Tracker.

Cash hogs steady

Cash hogs were steady last week. The pork carcass cutout value was 80 cents higher, posted at $79.25 on Friday. The cutout continued higher to open this week, pushing past the $80 barrier. Lean hog futures contracts have had a tough road and were down sharply on Wednesday of this week. 

According to Sterling Profit Tracker data, farrow-to-finish farmers lost $31 per head last week, about steady with losses the previous week. A year ago, pork producers realized positive margins of about $19 per head.

Lean carcass prices averaged $73.53 per cwt, up $0.47 per cwt. from the previous week but down $6.29 from last year. Estimated hog harvest last week was 2.536 million, 5,000 more than the previous week and 6,000 more than the same week last year.

WI cheep and lamb herd down

The USDA Sheep and Lambs inventory report was released this week. Wisconsin’s numbers totaled 80,000 head — 2,000 below Jan. 1, 2022. The breeding flock decreased by 1,000 head to total 65,000 head. Market lambs in the state totaled 15,000 head, dropping 6%. The U.S. breeding flock was down 1% while the market lamb inventory was unchanged.

The fed lamb market last week was lower with the carcass cutout value up $5.49 to finish the week at $543.38. The estimated weekly harvest was 33,000 head, up 1,000 head from the previous week and 4,000 higher than a year ago.

State livestock auction roundup

Fed cattle prices at Wisconsin and surrounding state auction markets were steady. High-yielding, high-grading cattle brought $133 to $152/cwt. Groups of high Choice and Prime lots sold from $153 to $162/cwt with packages selling higher. The Holstein steer market was fully steady to higher this week ranging from $113 to $142/cwt with a few packages selling to $147.

Silage fed, under finished or heavy dairy breed steers brought $77 to $113/cwt. Dairy x Beef steers were bringing $107 to $147/cwt.

Cows were $2 higher. A bulk of the cows brought $55 to $77/cwt with some selling into the $90s. Doubtful health and thin cows were bringing $55/cwt and down.

Dairy breed bull calves were lower, bringing $50 to $150/cwt with heavier, well cared for calves higher this week, selling up to $180/cwt. Beef and Beef Cross calves were steady, selling to $380/cwt. with reports of some higher. Market lambs brought $117 to $136/cwt. There were reports of small groups of light lambs selling to $220/cwt.