USDA Reports Continue To Dominate Conversation

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.


The Cattle Inventory report continues to dominate conversations. The inventory of all cattle and calves has declined each of the past five years and now sits at the lowest since 1951. The 2023 calf crop was down 2.5 percent from 2022 and was the smallest calf crop since 2014. The Jan. 1 beef cow herd inventory at 28.22 million head was a decrease of 3.47 million head. The beef cow herd is now 10.9 percent lower than its last peak in 2019.

The inventory of beef replacement heifers on Jan. 1 was 1.4 percent lower than the previous year. Since the 2023 beef replacement heifer inventory was revised down by 4.5 percent from one year ago, the 2024 inventory of beef replacement heifers is down 11.4 percent from the 2022 inventory, making it the smallest beef replacement heifer total since 1950.

The estimated harvest last week was 637,000 head, 19,000 more than the previous week. The total was equal to the same week a year ago. It has been rare that harvest totals meet or exceed last year’s totals, but weather impacted the corresponding week in 2023. The Choice beef cutout value was $4.20 lower last week, averaging $295.61.

Cattle Prices

Fed cattle prices were steady at Wisconsin and surrounding state auction markets. High Choice and Prime beef breed steers and heifers brought $169 to $173/cwt, with reports of to $180/cwt. Choice steers and heifers ranged from $160 to $169/cwt, with mixed grading and those likely to grade Select bringing $152 to $160/cwt. Holstein steers were steady and strong. High grading steers brought to $149 to $155, with some to $159/cwt. Lower grading steers brought $124 to $149. Silage-fed, under-finished, or heavy dairy breed steers brought $75 to $123/cwt. Dairy x Beef steers were steady to higher, bringing $126 to $167/cwt.

Cows were higher. A bulk of the cows brought $72 to $100/cwt with some fleshier dairy and beef cows selling to 110/cwt. Doubtful health and thin cows were bringing $72/cwt and down.

Dairy breed bull calves were fully steady to higher, bringing $100 to $350/cwt, with some heavier, well-managed calves selling to $475. Beef and Beef Cross calves were higher, selling up to $790/cwt.


Lean hog futures were higher last week, but turned lower to open this week as they search for a level of support. Cash hogs were $2.60/cwt higher last week and have been working higher since the beginning of January. The pork cutout averaged $88.43 last week, making it .67 cents lower than the week before. Belly prices are 40 percent higher than the beginning of the year. The cutout value has been running over 10 percent higher than a year ago.

The harvest estimate for the week was 2.691 million, putting it 2,000 more than the previous week and 101,000 more than a year ago. Many economists believe the financial outlook for 2024 will be an improvement over last year but are still projecting losses for farmers.


Recapping the results from the USDA Sheep and Lambs Inventory report — all sheep and lambs inventory in Wisconsin as of January totaled 78,000 head, down 2,000 head from 2023. Total breeding stock, at 64,000 head, was 2 percent below one year ago. Wisconsin mirrored the national trend with the U.S. breeding inventory also 2 percent lower.

Ewes one-year-old and older totaled 2.87 million head. All sheep and lambs inventory in the United States on Jan. 1 totaled 5.03 million head, down 2 percent from 2023.

The cash lamb market was mixed last week, with most areas of the country reporting prices on all classes of lambs $10 to $30/cwt higher. Sheep and lamb harvest was estimated at 34,000 last week, making it 1,000 head less than the previous week and 2,000 more than a year ago. The lamb cutout value was $471.06 last Friday, $1 higher than the week prior. Market lambs were higher at $180 to $202/cwt.