The U.S. Beef Industry has experienced historic levels of cow culling in 2011, and while slowed, a significant movement of cows from herds may not be done yet.

Beef cow slaughter in federal Region 6 – Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and New Mexico – is averaging 150 percent of year-ago levels for the past few months. Year-to-date beef cow slaughter in the region – which corresponds to the nation’s worst drought area – is 123 percent above year ago levels.

Year-to-date beef cow slaughter numbers for all other U.S. regions has declined 6 percent, resulting in a total national beef cow slaughter rate that is 101 percent of last year.

However, beef cow slaughter outside of Region 6 is 4.5 percent more than year ago levels for the past eight weeks, plus significant numbers of cows have moved out of Oklahoma and Texas to other regions, points out Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension livestock marketing specialist.

“This likely means that cow culling for the remainder of 2011 will not follow typical seasonal patterns, either within or beyond the exceptional drought area that is federal Region 6,” he said.

Throughout the drought areas, evidence suggests that most of the cows normally culled for age or productivity reasons have long since moved to market and are part of the increased U.S. slaughter rates already documented.

Reports indicate that many younger or still productive cows from drought-ravaged areas also have been sold, either to slaughter or to new owners in other regions who have access to better pasture and hay resources.

“Though most of the normally culled cows already have been sold, continued dry conditions will presumably force additional cow liquidation through the fall,” Peel said. “One would presume that most producers have by now determined if it is feasible to keep cows through the winter or not, and that additional movements might be at a slower pace than was seen during the summer months.”

Unfortunately, some cattle producers are reporting that cow pregnancy evaluations are showing significantly reduced pregnancy rates as a result of drought stress. Peel believes this may lead to additional culling this fall.

Also, beef cow slaughter in regions outside the drought areas increased during the past eight weeks.

“Forage conditions in most of the rest of the country have ranged from very good to average, so increased slaughter is not likely the result of poor forage conditions,” Peel said. “It’s more likely that the movement of animals from drought areas to other regions is changing normal culling patterns.”

Producers with good forage may be culling early to take advantage of the opportunity to trade out cull cows for young cows from the drought zone, or they may be taking in lease cows in need of a new home.

Another factor may be that many heifers held for replacement in the drought zone also have been liquidated, making more replacements available to cattle producers in other regions.

“The availability of heifers and breeding cows from drought-ravaged areas may help accelerate the herd expansion already in place in northern regions of the United States,” Peel said.

At any rate, drought conditions ensure that beef cow slaughter this year will rival or perhaps be greater than year-ago levels on a national basis.

“America’s total beef cow herd will decrease by 2 percent to 3 percent this year,” Peel said. “The regional impacts will be more dramatic, with herd growth likely in the northern Great Plains states and northern Rocky Mountain regions and double digit reductions in Texas and Oklahoma.”