Cattle prices declined sharply since peaking in mid-February. Rising supplies of slaughter cattle are partly to blame, while cattle weights continue to average above the prior year. Federally inspected weekly dressed cattle weights averaged 782 lbs. in March, 3.6% higher than a year ago.

Weights in March were actually 2 lbs. heavier than January. This is in sharp contrast to the seasonal pattern as dressed cattle weights normally decline about 2% January to March.

But rising domestic chicken supplies also contributed to the price decline. Trade reports indicate chicken exports, especially dark meat, have fallen sharply as foreign consumers reduce chicken consumption due to bird-flu fears. At the same time, total chicken production is running ahead of last year's pace; weekly data indicates chicken production in March was 5% greater than a year ago.

As a result, chicken prices have fallen sharply, providing stiff competition for beef and pork. March broiler leg quarter prices averaged 45% below a year ago. And even higher-valued, white-meat prices were well below 2005. Chicken tender and chicken breast prices in March were 37 and 33%, respectively, below a year ago.