Pasture conditions will play a critical role in U.S. cow slaughter rates this summer, reports the CME Group in its June 2 Daily Livestock Report. “While much of the focus recently has been on U.S. dairy cow slaughter, thanks to the implementation of a dairy herd buyback program, beef cow slaughter rates will be just as important, especially when comparing to the big numbers that came to market a year ago,” the report says.

Thus far, however, U.S. pasture conditions are in relatively good shape, though USDA is raising some early warning flags. For the week ending May 31, USDA reported that 58% of U.S. pastures and ranges were in Good or Excellent condition (the best since 1999); this compares with 51% for both a year ago and for the five-year average.

The warning sign, however, was that pasture conditions declined slightly from the prior week. Conditions typically tend to improve through mid to late June before the summer heat begins to take a toll.

“Plentiful rains this spring have provided cow-calf operators with some relief in an otherwise trying year, but it’s too early to tell whether conditions have peaked or if we will see further improvement in the next 2-3 weeks,” the report says. Particularly worrisome is the condition of pastures in the Southern Plains, especially in Texas where only 34% of pastures and ranges are listed as being in Good or Excellent condition, compared to 42% a year ago, the report says.

As for U.S. cow slaughter rates, current supplies remain near year-ago levels. In fact, the sharp decline in U.S. beef cow slaughter has thus far more than offset the increase in dairy slaughter.