Cattle Harvest Running Behind

The following meat market update was 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.


Larger than expected February cattle placements have impacted the markets. Weakness in boxed beef prices spilled over to the cash cattle market late last week with fed cattle called $1.40/cwt lower. The Choice beef cutout finished at $306.72 last week, a decline of $3.80. The Select cutout ended the week higher at $303.43.

Last week’s harvest estimate of 586,000 head was 12,000 below the previous week and 59,000 less than a year ago. Year-to-date cattle harvest is running 5.8% behind last year. Lean beef trimmings hit record highs the last week of March and are continuing to move higher.

Non-fed cattle prices surged this week as packers worked to meet the increased demand. Ground beef demand remains high with lean trimmings needed to mix with trim from fed cattle. Beef imports, mostly in the form of lean beef for ground beef production, has been on the increase.

Cattle Prices

Fed cattle prices were steady to lower this week. High Choice and Prime beef breed steers and heifers brought $174 to $185/cwt, with some to $193/cwt. Choice steers and heifers ranged from $163 to $174/cwt with mixed grading and those likely to grade Select bringing $153 to $163/cwt. Holstein steers were steady to lower. High grading steers brought $154 to $166/cwt with reports of some from $168 to $170/cwt, with a few higher. Lower grading steers brought $126 to $154. Silage fed, under finished, or heavy dairy breed steers brought $75 to $125/cwt. Dairy x Beef steers were steady, bringing $128 to $175/cwt, with some higher.

Cows were steady to $4 higher. The bulk of the cows brought $90 to $124/cwt with some fleshier dairy and beef cows selling to the low $130s/cwt. Doubtful health and thin cows were bringing $90/cwt and down.

Dairy breed bull calves were steady. Most brought $200 to $400/head with some heavier, well-managed calves selling to $670. Beef and Beef Cross calves were steady, selling up to $850 with a few to $1,000/head.


The USDA Quarterly Hogs and Pigs report released last week says the breeding herd shrank by 2.1%. This is a smaller decrease than pre-report estimates predicted. While the inventory is down from a year ago, it is up slightly from last quarter. December through February farrowings were down 2.6%. Farrowing intentions for March through May are higher. The average pigs saved per litter was 11.53 for the December 2023-February 2024 period, compared to 11.02 last year. The increase in pigs per litter will more than offset the decrease in sow inventory.

In a webinar hosted by the National Pork Board last Friday, Dr. Steve Meyer told attendees the report indicates we could see market hog supplies in the fourth quarter of this year, challenging packer capacity. The challenge could be compounded by an increase in hog weights.

Last week’s estimated harvest of 2.404 million was down 128,000 hogs from the week before and down 80,000 from a year ago. The hog carcass cutout was $1.83 higher last week, averaging $94.66. Wholesale prices and Lean Hog futures continued moving higher this week.

Exports have been supportive, but domestic demand could increase due to continued higher retail beef prices.


The Easter holiday is behind us, and it appears the lamb market is following typical seasonal patterns. It may seem counterintuitive, but traditional lamb prices generally increase after Easter as supply decreases. Heavy market lambs were steady to higher last week, with light lambs steady to $30/cwt lower. Last week’s harvest estimate of 32,000 head was 8,000 less than the previous week and 9,000 below a year ago. The lamb carcass cutout ended last week at $476.97 making it $2.93 higher than the previous Friday. Demand will need to hold for the seasonal price trend to continue. Lamb and mutton in cold storage on February 29 was unchanged from the end of January, but 33% lower than this time last year.