U.S. cattle weights are up

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON -- Based on the actual data available through the week ending Feb. 14, steer and heifer weights have been heavier than expected. But those increases have not fully translated into higher average cattle weights due to a larger number of cows in the slaughter mix this year as cows weigh much less than steers or heifers, relays the U.S.D.A.’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

The long-term trend in cattle weights is increased due to a variety of reasons and that trend has continued in 2009, said the Livestock Marketing Information Center. So far this year, the steer dressed weight has been stuck in the mid-850 lbs. range with the six-week average at 853 lbs., around 3% higher than 2007’s and about 32 lbs. more than the 2002-2006 average. At the same time, heifer dressed weights over the six-week period averaged 792 lbs., versus 773 lbs. last year and 4% above the 2002-2006 average.

Average cattle weights on a weekly basis, however, have only been trending around 1% higher than last year as of mid-February due to a dramatic increase in the number of cows (mostly dairy cows) being processed each week.

In addition to the long-term upward trend, two other important factors have contributed to heavier steer and heifer dressed weights so far this year. First, in the High Plains, winter feeding conditions, therefore animal performance, have been good. Second, compared to recent years, a greater proportion of the cattle on-feed entered into feedlots at heavier weights, which will also tend to increase dressed weight.

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