Beef-cow slaughter the first four months of 2006 totaled 0.878 million head, up about 72,000 head (9%) compared to the same period in 2005, says James Mintert, Kansas State University ag economist. Meanwhile, dairy-cow slaughter in the same period fell about 3% from a year earlier.

Poor pasture conditions in some key states are the impetus for the increase in beef-cow slaughter, but it's premature to conclude it signals a halt in herd expansion, Mintert writes in "In The Cattle Markets" on the Livestock Marketing Information Center Web site -- www.lmic.info/

In the past, total female slaughter (cow slaughter plus heifer slaughter) relative to steer slaughter has been a reliable indicator of herd expansion or contraction, Mintert says. That indicator still suggests modest expansion is likely underway.

Heifer slaughter has been noticeably smaller than a year ago, down 6.6% compared to 2005. As a result, the ratio of female to steer slaughter this year has actually fallen below last year's. Through the end of April, female slaughter as a percentage of steer slaughter was about 90%.

Last year at this time, the ratio was about 94%. When female slaughter as a percentage of steer slaughter is declining, it indicates producers are attempting to expand herds. Whether or not U.S. producers expand their herds in 2006 will depend in part on weather conditions the rest of the year, he says. -- Joe Roybal