Closer to home, U.S. beef producers have battled an antagonist that doesn't negotiate … the weather. A lingering drought in the Southern Plains, coupled with wildfires that have scorched rangeland, are forcing ranchers to send far more cattle to slaughter. Higher kill rates are being seen in some of the nation's leading cow-producing states, including Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and parts of Missouri. Total cow slaughter is up almost 4 percent this year. Since dairy cow slaughter is down 2 percent, that means the increase is coming from the beef sector. It also means the beef industry was watching for Friday's cattle on-feed report to see if the trend continues.
While USDA's latest cattle numbers fell short of any kind of a record, they did indicate the eighth consecutive month in which expansion surpassed that of the previous year.
According to USDA, the total number of cattle on-feed -- a nose count of all animals in feedlots with 1000 head or more last month -- was 104 percent of last year, May placements - young cattle just put into feedlots -- were 86 percent, and May marketings -- those animals sold to packers -- were 109 percent of last year.
Typically more cattle arrive at the feedlot than are marketed out during the early summer. But this month's cattle-on-feed report cited larger marketings and smaller placement activity