Based on USDA weekly slaughter statistics available through September 23, total cow slaughter for period June 3 – September 23 was 1.842 million head, 161,600 head (+10%) higher than the same period a year ago. While the number of beef and dairy cows slaughtered during this period was evenly divided, dairy cows contributed almost 1/3 of the entire increase, about 55,700 head. A larger dairy cowherd implies a larger cull rate so some of the increase is normal.
Dairy margins have so far been good, but not great. Class III milk prices were hovering around 17 cents per pound in June and July but the dropped to as low as 15.6 cents by mid-September. Low feed costs and robust export demand, especially if butterfat continues to underpin dairy industry profitability and will likely keep dairy cow slaughter in the single digits in Q4.