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USDA Ag Outlook: Livestock analysts provides 2024 livestock and poultry outlook during 100th annual forum

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) held its 100th Annual Outlook Forum Feb. 15-16, providing a wealth of information for the nation’s agriculture industry. 

On the second day of the centennial event, USDA Livestock Analyst Shayle Shagam provided the 2024 Livestock and Poultry Outlook, which is a mixed bag of negative and positive news.

To begin, Shagam noted 2023 saw the first decline in aggregate meat production since 2014, with total red meat and poultry production down nearly one percent to 106.9 billion pounds. 

“This decline was driven almost entirely by lower beef and veal production with increases in pork, broiler and turkey production insufficient to offset the impacts of a multiyear drought on the cattle sector,” she explained. 

Despite this, Shagam shared the USDA is forecasting red meat and poultry production to increase fractionally to 107 billion pounds in the coming year. 

Cattle and beef

In 2023, the U.S. cattle inventory marked its fifth year of contractions, and according to USDA’s Cattle Report, the number of cattle and calves as of Jan. 1 was 87.2 million head, down two percent from the year prior and the lowest inventory on record since 1951. 

“The number of cows and heifers that calved was estimated at 37.6 million head, down two percent from the previous year,” said Shagam. “The beef cow herd was estimated at 28.2 million head, two percent smaller than 2023 and the lowest since 1961. The 2023 calf crop was estimated at 33.6 million head, about two percent smaller than the 2022 calf crop.” 

With this, Shagam pointed out the U.S. cattle inventory will likely continue to decline into 2024, considering producers retained one percent fewer replacement heifers and fewer numbers of heifers are expected to calve in the coming year. 

Shagam also shared, so far in 2024, beef and dairy cow slaughter has been below 2023 levels, but this may reflect the effects of winter weather on mid-January slaughter schedules. 

“Nonetheless, with a smaller cow base, cow slaughter is expected to decline during the year, but reductions may also reflect improved forage conditions and strong calf prices which would support retention of cows as a precursor to any herd rebuilding,” she said. 

Additionally Shagam explained commercial beef production for 2024 is predicted to fall by three percent to 26.19 billion pounds and total beef exports are likely to decline to 2.79 billion pounds, while beef imports are forecast at a record 4.13 billion pounds for the coming year, up 11 percent from 2023.

Hogs and pork 

Despite last year’s poor returns, Shagam noted the hog sector will likely see increased production in 2024. 

She referenced the December 2023 Quarterly Hogs and Pigs Report, which shows the inventory of hogs and pigs as of Dec. 1, 2023 at just under 75 million head, unchanged from the previous year. 

“The breeding herd, however, likely reflected weak producer margins, declining three percent to six million head,” explained Shagam. “Producers indicated intentions to farrow about 1.5 percent fewer hogs in the first half of 2024. However, the sector is facing a relatively large number of hogs which will have to be slaughtered during the first half of 2024, as the pig crop in the second half of 2023 was unchanged from 2022.”

“Moving into the second half of 2024, availability of hogs for slaughter will reflect lower farrowing in the first half of the year but will likely return to pre-COVID-19 rates of growth in pigs per litter,” she added. “As a result, the first half of the pig crop may be about one percent higher and these higher numbers will be reflected in continued higher year-over-year levels of slaughter.”

Shagam further noted U.S. hog exports during 2023 increased a little over seven percent to 6.82 million pounds, with shipments to Mexico increasing nearly 10 percent, shipments to Canada increasing eight percent and shipments to Central America and the Caribbean increasing 16 percent. 

In the coming year, pork exports are forecast to increase about four percent to 7.08 billion pounds, while imports are forecast at just under 6.65 million head, down nearly two percent from 2023. 

Sheep and lamb 

Moving on to sheep and lambs, Shagam noted the the Jan. 1 Sheep and Goats Report shows the U.S. sheep and lamb inventory at 5.03 million head, down two percent from a year ago. 

Additionally, the Jan. 1 breeding ewe inventory was down two percent from 2022, and producers have indicated they are holding just over one percent fewer replacement lambs in the coming year, according to Shagam. 

“For 2024, commercial lamb and mutton production is forecast to be 129 million pounds, a decline of just under one percent from 2023. The smaller lamb crop in 2023 would suggest lower supplies for slaughter in the first part of 2024,” she said. 

“After dipping in 2023, lamb and mutton imports are forecast higher in 2024, reflecting in part lower U.S. production. Increased availability of sheep meat in Australia and stable U.S. sheep meat demand will also make the U.S. an attractive market,” Shagam continued. 

“Lamb and mutton imports in 2024 are forecast at 305 million pounds, up seven percent from 2023, but below the import levels of 2021-22,” she added.

Poultry and eggs

To wrap up her presentation, Shagam provided an outlook on the poultry sector, including  forecasts for broiler meat, turkey and egg. 

Per the USDA’s report, as of Jan. 1, broiler-type layers were estimated at less than one percent higher than in 2023.

“For 2024, broiler meat production is forecast just under one percent higher to a record 46.8 billion pounds,” she said. “After a contraction in production in the second half of 2023 and indications of generally lower eggs set and chicks placed in early 2024, higher bird weights are helping underpin expectations of steady-to-slowly increasing production in the first part of 2024.”

“Egg fertility – hatchability – although relatively stable thus far in 2024, remains below historic levels,” she added. “Thus, the majority of the increase in production in 2024 will likely reflect higher bird weights.” 

Shagam noted 2024 U.S. broiler exports are expected to decrease fractionally to 7.22 billion pounds over the new year, while broiler imports will likely increase. 

Likewise, 2024 turkey production is forecast to decrease one percent to 5.4 billion pounds. 

“Flock depopulations in late 2023 and early 2024 due to highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) are expected to constrain early-2024 production,” she stated. “Monthly poult placements in November and December of 2023 were also below previous year levels. However, as the sector recovers from the depopulations induced by HPAI discoveries, bird numbers will likely increase.”

She pointed out turkey exports in 2024 are expected to increase five percent to 515 million pounds, with Mexico remaining the commodity’s largest export destination.

Lastly, Shagam shared total U.S. egg production is forecast to be 9.31 billion dozen, just over one percent higher than last year. 

“The sector is continuing to recover from HPAI-related culls in November, December and early January, which resulted in the depopulation of 13.6 million table egg layers,” she said. “Nonetheless, at the beginning of the year, the table egg flock was 311.8 million birds, 1.4 percent above 2023.”

“Gains in late-2023 production were also supported by higher levels of eggs per bird. Growth in eggs per layer is expected to carry into 2024, but as new hens are added to laying flocks, some of the efficiency gain maybe lost,” added Shagam. “Thus, the lay-rate gains later in year may be somewhat slower than those earlier in the year and this will have a dampening impact on production growth.”

Shagam also noted egg and egg product exports in 2023 increased nearly 11 percent from 2022’s “depressed levels.” For 2024, exports are expected to decline four percent to 241 million dozen as international demand weakens. 

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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