Slaughter weight thoughts

Much has been written about the new slaughter plants in Iowa and Michigan that are expected to begin slaughtering pigs within 1-2 months. Of concern to producers is the large increase in the kept for market inventory in the June 1 USDA report associated with the start of these plants. Any mis-step in the start-up chain of events will push a lot of pigs to current slaughter locations which has the potential to rapidly drive prices down.

In addition to slaughter numbers, I also keep an eye on slaughter weight as the total pork supply is a combination of weight per head and number of pigs. The most commonly quoted weight series is the NW_LS720 report released every Wednesday morning. This report is the estimated average weight of barrows and gilts for the previous week in Iowa, Southern Minnesota and South Dakota region.

For the week ending on July 15, this report included 740,000 pigs with an average liveweight of 276.8. This report is ‘estimated’ in part because at least one major slaughter plant in the region does not weight live pigs – they weigh every carcass and use an ‘average’ yield to back calculate liveweight.

The report also does not capture the pigs sold to many other slaughter plants in the US. That is why I compute a weekly weighted barrow and gilt carcass weight from the LM_HG201 prior day slaughter report. This report includes all of the federally inspected slaughter plants in the US that slaughter over a threshold number of pigs in a year – I think the number is 300,000 head but don’t hold me to this number as being absolutely correct.

The importance of using this number is that the report is carcass weight for barrows and gilts so it does not include carcass yield ‘estimates’ in it’s value. In addition, it also captures data from such plants as the Smithfield plants in Los Angles and North Carolina, the Seaboard plant in Guyman, the Triumph plant in St Joseph, the plants in Illinois, Indiana, etc.

Regardless of which data set you choose to use, slaughter (or carcass) weights always decline in summer months because of the impact of heat and often times because of increased pig numbers in facilities. Pig numbers always increase in summer months because of the seasonal impacts on reproduction that the industry hasn’t been able to fully overcome as yet.

The Iowa/SMinn/SDak series reported an average liveweight of 276.8 lb for last weeks sales. This is lighter than the weight on the same week for the past 3 years, but still 4.8 lb above the average weight in 2013.

My data series from the LM_HG201 report began in 2014 so I can’t make the similar comparison to 2013. However, barrow and gilt carcass weights last week averaged 207.7. This compares to 209.2 lb carcasses last year for the same week.

How much of the year to year decline in weights is due to less ractopamine being fed and how much is due to producers aggressively keeping current on sales in light of the very good prices currently being offered is impossible to tell from these data series. However, as we move into fall months, with the ‘wall’ of pigs coming at us keeping slaughter weights down will help in the event of a slow start to the new slaughter plants.

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