Weather Continues to Impact Beef Markets

The following report was prepared and written by Jeff Swenson, DATCP’s livestock and meat specialist. This report draws information from several sources, including trade publications, radio broadcasts, agricultural news services, individuals involved in the industry as well as USDA reports.


The weather has impacted beef markets. The estimated harvest last week was 549,000 head, making it 2,000 less than the previous week, which was shortened due to the New Year’s holiday and 112,000 head below a year ago. It is unlikely the slowdown in production will cause a backup of market ready cattle but will impact feedlot gains, so showlists will be smaller in the coming weeks.

The slowdown has caused an increase in wholesale prices. Last week’s Choice beef cutout averaged $283.44, and that was up $4.59. It has gained over $15.00 from that average this week. The spread between the Choice and Select cutout is shrinking and is just $15.00 now. This is a signal that consumers are seeking lower priced beef. The average retail price of beef in December was $8.01/pound, making it 7.5% higher than a year ago.

Last week’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report projects beef production in the U.S. to be 3.2% lower than 2023.

Beef exports in November were down 14% from a year ago, and the second lowest of the year. For the first 11 months of the year, beef exports were 13% below the record pace of 2022. While exports were down through the first 11 months of last year, they were still ahead of the five-year average. November beef export value equated to $380.54 per head, down slightly year-over-year. The January-November average fell 13% to $394.07 per head but was still the third highest on record, trailing only 2021 and 2022.

Cattle Prices

Fed cattle prices were mostly steady. High Choice and Prime beef breed steers and heifers brought $166 to $170/cwt mostly topping at $175 with some higher. Choice steers and heifers ranged from $159 to $166/cwt, with mixed grading and those likely to grade Select bringing $150 to $158/cwt. Holstein steers were mostly steady to $1 higher. High grading steers brought to $149 to $155, with some to $160/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 $165/cwt.

Cows gapped higher. A bulk of the cows brought $70 to $95/cwt, with some fleshier dairy and beef cows selling to $110/cwt. Doubtful health and thin cows were bringing $70/cwt and down.

Dairy breed bull calves were fully steady, bringing $100 to $300/cwt with some heavier, well-managed calves selling to $420. Beef and Beef Cross calves were higher, selling up to $670/cwt.


Hog harvest schedules were impacted by winter weather last week, with challenges moving hogs continuing this week. The USDA estimated last week’s harvest total at 2.279 million. That total is 92,000 head below the previous week and 410,000 below last year. The decrease is significant, considering the previous week included a holiday.

Cash hogs were called $1.80/cwt higher, likely an attempt to entice more hogs to market. The slowdown could push hog weights higher for the near future. The pork cutout was $1.22 higher last week, averaging $85.37. Retail pork prices in December were down slightly from November, averaging $4.82.

The WASDE report estimates 2024 U.S. pork production will increase by 2.4% compared to last year. November exports of U.S. pork reached the highest value since mid-2021, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). November pork exports totaled 258,601 metric tons, up 5% from a year ago and the highest in six months. November pork export value equated to $66.20 per head, down slightly year-over-year. Exports accounted for 30.1% of total November pork production.


Sheep and lamb harvest was not impacted by snow and bitter cold when compared to the cattle and hog sectors. Last week’s estimated harvest of 35,000 head was 7,000 more than the previous week and 1,000 more than last year. Traditional market lambs were called $1.00/cwt higher last week. The lamb carcass cutout value dropped significantly to $463.32 last Friday, compared to $474.45 the week before.

November exports of U.S. lamb totaled 115 metric tons, down 64% from a year ago. January-November exports were 18% below the previous year’s pace. Exports trended higher to Guatemala, the Netherlands Antilles, and Barbados, but these gains were offset by lower shipments to Mexico and Canada.

Market lambs were steady at $150 to $187, with a few higher.