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Cull numbers rise in drought stricken states


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.

The Cattle on Feed Report released on April 23 shows the challenge of comparing 2021 to 2020. The On Feed number of 11.9 million head is 5 percent higher than April 1, 2020. The number of cattle placed on feed in March was 28 percent higher than 2020, and cattle marketed was 1 percent higher than March last year. 

When compared to the year prior, Friday's on-feed numbers are 99% of that in March 2019, the number of cattle placed are 99% of that in March 2019 and the number of cattle marketed in March 2021 was 15% more than in 2019 giving this report a friendlier tone.

The makeup of cattle in feedlots is 62 percent steers, and 38 percent heifers. The number of heifers on feed shows the beef sector isn’t in expansion mode. In addition, beef cow harvest in March was 27,000 head higher than last year. 

Culling and liquidation in drought stricken portions of the country is underway. Last week’s estimated harvest was 665,000 head, 25,000 head more than the previous week and 195,000 head more than the same week in 2020 indicating just how challenging COVID-19 was to the cattle sector. 

Export sales for the latest week reported were 23,600 metric tons, a fairly respectable number given it is double the sales of the same week last year.

Hog supplies continue to tighten

Last week’s hog harvest of 2.473 million head isn’t a large number for a week in April. It is, however, 482,000 hogs higher than the same week last year, illustrating the impact COVID 19 was having in the hog sector last April.

It’s remarkable to think a year later packers are having to seek out hogs and bid higher for them. Cash hog prices ended Thursday at $87.31/cwt and $111.10/cwt on a carcass basis.

The National Pork Board reported during a webinar last week that red meat sales are 13 percent higher since the pandemic began. Pork sales have seen the highest increase among the red meat category at 15 percent. They also reported 43 percent of all shoppers are purchasing more meat now versus pre-pandemic.

Pork export sales for the week were disappointing at 35,600 metric tons. Higher US pork prices may be limiting purchases by foreign buyers. Pork prices domestically are still significantly lower than beef.  Pork prices are higher than chicken at retail, but the difference between the two is much narrower.

Meat stocks slow to replenish

Last week’s USDA Cold Storage report indicates meat stocks have been slow to replenish. March total red meat supplies were 6 percent lower than February and 17 percent lower than March 2020. Total pounds of beef in freezers were 6 percent lower than February and 4 percent lower than March 2020.

Pork in storage is down 7 percent from February and 27 percent below a year ago.  Pork Bellies is storage are 6 percent lower than last month and 55 percent below last March. Total Poultry supplies on March 31, 2021 were up slightly from February, but 17 percent lower than a year ago. Chicken in storage was down 4 percent from February and 20 percent below a year ago. Turkey supplies were 9 percent above the prior month and 10 percent below March 2021.

State markets remain steady 

Choice beef breed steers and heifers at Wisconsin and surrounding state auction markets were steady this week. High-yielding, high-grading cattle brought 100.00 to 120.00/cwt. with some groups to $122.00/cwt and above. Choice and Prime Holstein steers were fully steady this week bringing $90.00 to $104.00/cwt.

There were some packages of Holstein steers selling from $104.00 to $107.00/cwt again this week. Silage fed, under finished or heavy dairy breed steers brought $70.00 to $92.00/cwt. Dairy x Beef steers were mostly $95.00 to $117.50/cwt. Cows were steady to $1.00 lower at $47.00 to $64.00/cwt.

Blemish free cows in fleshier condition were selling to $70.00/cwt with a small sampling selling higher. Doubtful health and thin cows were bringing $45.00/cwt and down. Dairy breed bull calves were higher at $50.00 to $175.00/cwt with heavier, well cared for calves up to $200.00/cwt. Beef and Beef Cross calves brought up to $325.00/cwt.