The drought in the Southwest has dramatically changed cow-culling patterns.
Cow slaughter continues at a pace well above last year in the Southern Plains. Beef-cow slaughter in federal Region 6, which corresponds to the worst drought area, is averaging 150% of year-ago levels for the past eight weeks. For the year to date, beef-cow slaughter in the region is 123% above a year ago. Beef-cow slaughter in all other regions for the year to date is down 6%, resulting in a total national figure that is 101% of last year.
However, in the past eight weeks, beef-cow slaughter outside of Region 6 is 4.5% above year-ago levels, resulting in total beef-cow slaughter higher than last year for the past few weeks. Additionally, a significant number of cows have moved out of Texas and Oklahoma to other regions, though it’s hard to know how many cows have been relocated. All this likely means cow culling for the remainder of the year won’t follow typical seasonal patterns both inside and outside of the drought areas.
It seems clear in the drought regions that most of the cows normally culled for age or productivity reasons have long since moved to market and are part of the increased slaughter already documented. Additionally, many younger or still productive cows have also been sold, either to slaughter or to new owners in other regions, along with some relocation by owners to greener pastures.
So what can we expect in the drought area for the remainder of the year? Though most of the normally culled cows have already been sold, continued dry conditions presumably will force additional cow liquidation through the fall. One would presume that most producers have by now determined if it is feasible to keep cows through the winter or not and that additional movements might be at a slower pace than summer levels. However, there are reports that pregnancy evaluations are, in some cases, showing significantly reduced pregnancy rates due to the effects of the drought, which may lead to some additional culling this fall.
Drought liquidation may have an impact on beef herd culling in other regions for the remainder of the year. Beef-cow slaughter in regions outside the drought area is also up the past eight weeks. Forage conditions in most of the rest of the country have ranged from very good to average and increased slaughter is likely not the result of poor forage conditions.
However, the movement of cows from drought regions into other regions may be changing normal culling patterns. Producers with good forage may be culling early to take advantage of the opportunity to trade out cull cows for young cows from the drought zone or take in lease cows needing a new home. Additionally, many heifers held for replacement in the drought region have also been liquidated, making more replacements available to producers in other regions. The availability of heifers and breeding cows from the drought area may help accelerate the herd expansion already in place in northern regions of the country.
The drought ensures that beef-cow slaughter this year will be close to, or perhaps above, year-ago levels on a national basis. The total beef cowherd will decrease by 2-3% this year. The regional impacts will be much more dramatic with herd growth likely in the Northern Plains and northern Rocky Mountain regions, and double-digit reductions in herds in Texas and Oklahoma.