The May 30th CAB Insider covered the increasing role of both heifer and cow harvest in 2018. Year-to-date (YTD) harvest head counts then showed beef cows up 10.9% and fed heifers up 5.6%. In late May, we also focused on changes in the steer harvest which, at that time, was a quizzically low -0.65%. My theory suggested the remainder of the 2nd quarter would see a boon in steer harvest, outpacing 2017 where we’d encounter those large anticipated numbers.
However, at this point in early August, we’ve added the June and July head harvest counts only to see steer harvest not only failed to increase in the year-over-year numbers, but actually declined in the weekly USDA estimates to -0.93% in the YTD stats. That places the June-July steer weekly count at approximately 334,332 head, down 1.8% for the period on 2017. The decline in steer harvest is a bit challenging to understand since January 1, 2018 inventory showed an increase in steers on feed, a whopping 4% larger than January 2017. As well, the broader measure of the 2017 U.S. calf crop showed 2% growth. Given the shortage of Southern Plains grazing availability last winter and the large feedlot placements late last year through the 1st quarter, it certainly seems logical that many of those steers would have shown up in the fed cattle harvest. A final point, more centric to CAB, is the idea that heifers jumping up to 36% of the fed-cattle harvest in the past two weeks, compared to 32% a year ago, would move the U.S. carcass quality grade percentage above a year ago. That would be a great inclination, but also wrong, since the combined % Choice and Prime currently rests just fractions of a point lower instead, at 78.5%.