Beef Market Recovery Begins Following HPAI

Prepared and written by Jeff Swenson, DATCP Livestock and Meat Specialist. The Market Update draws information from several sources, including trade publications, radio broadcasts, agricultural news services, individuals involved in the industry as well as USDA NASS and AMS reports. Edited by Mid-West Farm Report.

The beef market saw a negative impact by the news of dairy cattle testing positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza, now called Bovine Influenza A virus (BIAV). A month after the virus was identified, market recovery seems to have begun.

Cash cattle called $1.10/cwt higher last week. Packer margins will make it difficult to expect higher fed cattle prices, but we are heading into what is typically the highest demand season for beef. Margins for cattle feeders are currently breakeven. The Choice beef cutout value averaged $296.63 last week, a decrease of .81 cents. There seems to be major resistance at $300, with hopes that grilling season can help break through that level.

Last week’s harvest estimate of 613,00 head was 7,000 less than the week before and 14,000 fewer than a year ago. The USDA Monthly Slaughter report showed March beef production at 2.11 billion pounds, 12.3% lower than a year ago. Harvest by head was down 15%, totaling 2.51 million head. March had two fewer weekdays than last year. This accounted for a portion of the decrease. The average live weight was 26 pounds higher than March 2023, which helped to offset the drop in cattle harvested somewhat. The most notable data from the report may be the 22.4% decrease in harvested beef cows. Heifers made up 32% of total cattle harvested in March. Year-to-date beef production is 3.9% below year ago levels.

BIAV news caused feeder cattle prices to go down during a time they typically increase. Heavier weight feeder cattle have been recovering, with calf prices moving sideways. The January 1 feeder cattle supply in the U.S. was estimated to be 4.2% lower than 2023, making it the lowest levels since the data began being recorded in 1972.

Fed cattle were stronger this week at Wisconsin and surrounding state auction markets.

High Choice and Prime beef breed steers and heifers brought $173 to $180/cwt with a few instances of packages bringing $180 to $185/cwt, with some to $192/cwt. Choice steers and heifers ranged from $163 to $173/cwt with mixed grading and those likely to grade Select bringing $150 to $163/cwt. Holstein steers were mostly steady. High grading steers brought $156 to $166/cwt with reports of some from $166 to $170/cwt, and a few higher. Lower grading steers brought $127 to $156. Silage fed, under finished, or heavy dairy breed steers brought $75 to $125/cwt. Dairy x Beef steers were higher, bringing $129 to $174/cwt, with some higher.

Cows were mixed. The bulk of the cows brought $87 to $116/cwt with some to $125 and above. Doubtful health and thin cows were bringing $86/cwt and down.

Dairy breed bull calves were steady. Most brought $200 to $400/head with some heavier, well-managed calves selling to $600. Beef and Beef Cross calves were steady, selling to $900/head with a few higher.