A Great Harvest: Livestock Style


   The word harvest is generally associated with crops such as corn, soybeans, cotton, wheat, or a vegetable garden. In Tennessee, the harvest of summer crops is in full swing, and it appears yields will be strong which correlates with increased production. Similarly, the word “harvest” is used as the politically correct terminology when discussing livestock slaughter. In order to create confusion, harvest and slaughter are used in this brief article.
   Many livestock producers view livestock production as a way of life, a for-profit business, or both. However, there are many intricacies of the livestock business that are not commonly thought about or evaluated by producers. One of those intricacies is domestic meat production which is influenced by slaughter rates and carcass weight.
   Through the first 38 weeks of 2017, U.S. federally inspected beef production totaled 18.66 billion pounds while pork production totaled 18.14 billion pounds. This means average weekly production thru the first 38 weeks of 2017 was 491 million pounds for beef and 477 million pounds for pork.     Additionally, poultry production totaled 41.9 billion pounds through the first 37 weeks of the year resulting in an average weekly production of 1.13 billion pounds. If international trade did not occur then each person in the United States would have to eat 1.51 pounds of beef, 1.46 pounds of pork, and 3.47 pounds of chicken every week to utilize all domestic production.
   Compared to the same 38 week period in 2016, beef production is 4.6 percent higher (814 million pounds) in 2017 while pork production is 2.9 percent higher (507 million pounds). Similarly, poultry production was up 0.9 percent (376 million pounds) compared to the first 37 weeks in 2016.
   Meat production is driven by the number of animals slaughtered and the weight of the animal at harvest. Considering the first 38 weeks of 2017, federally inspected cattle slaughter exceeded 23 million head with a weekly average slaughter rate of 606,900 head. (As a reference point, Tennessee cattle inventory on January 1 was 1.83 million head which means it would keep slaughter facilities busy for about three weeks if everything was sent to slaughter.) Through this period, federally inspected cattle slaughter was 6.1 percent higher (1.3 million head) than a year ago.   Cattle slaughter numbers include steers, heifers, dairy cows, beef cows, and bulls. In 2017 (first 36 weeks), steers  and heifers comprised 53.9 percent and 26.3 percent of the total slaughter number, respectively, while dairy cows (9.5 percent), beef cows (8.6 percent), and bulls (1.7 percent) made up the remainder. Compared to the same time period in 2016, steer slaughter is 3.1 percent higher, heifer slaughter is 11.5 percent higher, and beef cow slaughter is 11.1 percent higher.
   Federally inspected hog slaughter totaled more than 86 million head through the first 38 weeks of 2017 with an average weekly harvest of 2.27 million head. Hog slaughter is 3.2 percent higher (2.66 million head) than the same time period in 2016. Barrows and gilts make up 94.4 percent of total slaughter numbers in 2017.
   If it is difficult to fathom cattle and hog slaughter totals, poultry numbers are even more difficult to wrap one’s mind around. Poultry slaughter for the first 37 weeks of 2017 totaled 6.22 billion birds (young chickens, hens, and turkey) which is an average harvest rate of 168 million birds per week.     That means each household in the U.S. would have to consume 1.3 chickens every week if no international trade occurred.
   By now, readers have realized harvest levels increased more than meat production from 2016 to 2017. This is due to animals being harvested at lighter weights. Cattle harvest weights are about 12 pounds below 2016 slaughter weights while hog weights are nearly one pound lower than 2016.
   This may seem like a lot of discombobulated information, but this information does influence livestock and poultry markets. Beef and pork production are expected to continue increasing in 2018 and likely into 2019. What this means for beef and pork markets cannot be guaranteed, but it will likely result in softer farm level prices. Increasing exports would be one method of alleviating some of the downward price pressure that is expected. ∆
   DR. ANDREW P. GRIFFITH: Assistant Professor, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Tennessee
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