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The Weekly News Source for Wyoming's Ranchers, Farmers and AgriBusiness Community

CAB Market Insider

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

By: Paul Dykstra

Federally-inspected cattle slaughter during the last week of April totaled 613,000 head, down 7,000 on the prior week. Aside from this downtrend, April averaged 611,000 head on an impressive uptick from March’s abysmal 589,000 weekly average.

Slaughter capacity improvement seen in fed steers and heifers

All of the improvement in recent slaughter capacity utilization has come in the fed steer and heifer segment. Comparing the past four weeks in April to the prior four in March shows a 4.5 percent or 21,000 head weekly average increase.

The year-over-year contrast for the two months shows quite a difference with March’s slow pace totaling just 95 percent of a year ago, while the April total was two percent larger than a year ago.

The remaining one-fifth of federally-inspected cattle harvest is comprised of cull dairy and beef cows, plus a tiny 1.5 percent bulls. Together, these head counts have drawn dramatically lower by 14 percent year to date. 

The trend has been sharply lower since early February when 2024 cow counts peaked at 127,000 head that week, down to the latest 109,000 head confirmed total in early April.

Fed cattle prices showed resiliency during the last week of April with a slightly higher average of $183.10 per hundredweight (cwt). 

Early trade in Texas at $181.91 per cwt represented the low end of the range, while Iowa and Minnesota topped the market with an average of $185.49 percent cwt, highlighted by the region’s highest reported $187 per cwt.

Weakness in boxed beef values are currently the important theme as spring grilling demand has yet to create any signs of surge in prices. The comprehensive U.S. Department of Agriculture cutout resting at just $299 per cwt is six cents per cwt lower than a year ago and well below the mid-March $315 per cwt year-to-date high.

Price spreads across the carcass quality spectrum are notably narrower at present compared to the three-year average, as marbling levels and quality grades are holding at record historical levels in recent data. 

Combined Choice and Prime carcasses account for 84 percent of the carcass mix while the Certified Angus Beef (CAB) carcass certification rate two weeks ago was 40.9 percent.

Heavy carcass weights recently drove Prime carcass tonnage above a year ago, while Choice supplies are nearly par. The latest increases in slaughter should reflect more of the same.

Middle meats lower, ends hold up 

Beef carcass cutout values have continued a precipitous decline since mid-March, tracking a five percent lower trend in this period. This is firmly against the trend charted in the previous three-year average when the comprehensive cutout moved 9.5 percent higher in the same six weeks.

Market observers may pin the cause on the announcement of highly pathogenic avian influenza in dairy cows for the apparent softer demand. This factor was strongly causative with the precipitous decline in live cattle futures contract prices beginning in late March, but is likely less correlated to the dip in boxed beef prices.

Smaller weekly slaughter levels would seemingly spell higher cattle prices, especially in the spring. But, larger April head counts resulted in 4.4 percent larger fed cattle totals than last year in the past four weeks. 

With fed cattle carcass weights 27 pounds heavier than a year ago as well, the resulting fed beef tonnage suddenly landed well above last year in the past month, just a few thousand head short of the same period in 2022. 

Short-term production volume is not nearly as low as it was in March.

Another lesser-known feature of today’s beef market is the price weakness of the highest-valued middle meats. 

Ribeye and tenderloin prices have recently fallen below a year ago. Wholesale CAB brand ribeyes in the last week of April’s report averaged $9.70 per pound, a dollar lower than a year ago and lower than the same week in any of the previous three years. 

CAB tenderloins during the last week of April averaged $13.42 per pound, $3.28 per pound lower than the record-high $16.70 per pound set the same week last year. 

The third coveted middle meat steak item – the 0x1 strip loin – stands in contrast to the former two cuts, lately listed at $8.30 per pound, a premium of $1.54 per pound higher than a year ago. 

Strip loin prices pressed rapidly higher from February through March, hitting the $10 per pound ceiling before pulling slightly lower in April. End users have shown greater demand for strip loins even at this spring’s elevated levels, preferring to substitute them over higher-valued ribeyes.

A degree of waning demand for ribeyes and tenderloins may be a sign of the times, economically, here in the U.S. This is further evidenced by stronger year-over-year prices recently for some chuck and round items, precipitated by sharply lower cull cow slaughter and lean grinding beef availability.

Paul Dykstra is the director of supply management and analysis at CAB. He can be reached at

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