2012 U.S. dairy cow slaughter on pace to hit 3 million head

By Dave Natzke

While the drought is boosting normal seasonal beef cow slaughter rates in the final months of 2012, unfavorable economic conditions for dairy producers have led to much higher dairy cow slaughter rates than in 2011, according to USDA’s Dec. 17 Livestock, Dairy & Poultry Outlook report. And, although annual total cow slaughter has been down overall from corresponding periods in 2011, dairy cow slaughter has been significantly higher. 


Through early December, 2012 annual U.S. dairy cow slaughter was on pace to hit 3 million head, the highest total in 17 years. USDA began differentiating dairy cow slaughter from total cow slaughter in 1986. Since 1986, dairy cow slaughter has topped 3.0 million only twice, in 1986, at 3.595 million (a year influenced by the federal whole herd buy-out program) and 1996, at 3.037 million.


Through Dec. 1, 2012, year-to-date U.S. dairy cows slaughtered under federal inspection had reached 2.847 million head, nearly 170,000 head more than the same period in 2011, and had already surpassed the annual total for any year between 2003-2010. Except for the holiday-shortened week of Thanksgiving, weekly slaughter of dairy cows has been over 60,000 head per week since August.


Despite the fact there were more than three times as many beef cows as dairy cows on July 1, 2012 (30.5 million beef cows and 9.2 million dairy cows, according to semi-annual USDA estimates), dairy cow slaughter was making up nearly half of all cows slaughtered under federal inspection in 2012. Through October 2012, U.S. dairy cows slaughter as a percent of total cows was 48.6%. That compares to 43.4% of all cows in 2011 and 43.6% in 2010. If that pace continues, it would be the highest  percentage since 2000.


Fourth-quarter 2012 total cow slaughter to date is about even with fourth-quarter slaughter in 2011. Cow prices have declined about $10/cwt. from their May 2012 record levels, but remain $10-$12 higher than for the same periods in 2011.