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Meat protein supplies are currently hovering above year ago levels. Combined red meat and poultry production for the week ending December 17 was 1.778 billion pounds, 21.2 million pounds or 1.2 percent above year ago levels.
The increase in pounds has come even as producers see fewer numbers of cattle and hogs coming to market. For the latest reported week, USDA noted that compared to a year ago cattle slaughter was 0.632 mil head, down 1.86 percent; hog slaughter was 2.304 mil head, down 1.93 percent; broiler slaughter was 152.2 mil head, up just 0.80 percent and turkey slaughter at 4.610 mil head, was up only 0.07 percent. So far, producers have been able to offset the decline in slaughter by increasing carcass weights. The average cattle carcass weight (this includes steers, heifers and cows) is currently running at 797 pounds, about 24 pounds or 3.1 per cent above year ago levels. As a result, beef production is up 1.3 per cent even as slaughter levels decline.
Hog weights have been well below year ago levels since August, largely because producers pulled hogs forward in an effort to limit the supply of pork coming to market. The strategy worked and it helped contain losses as record corn prices turned pork production systems upside down. It appears that producers may be returning to a more regular production schedule, as evidenced by the steady gains in hog carcass weights and hog slaughter that is running below year ago levels.