Why do carcass weights matter?

(Kara Oosterhuis/RealAgriculture)

Often when talking about the cattle markets, we talk about carcass weight, but sometimes without even completely realizing what it means or what the average weight can tell us.

Anne Wasko of the Gateway Livestock Exchange says at the end of the day, we’re all selling beef tonnage — pounds of beef is what consumers eat, it’s what we sell, versus number of head, which is where carcass weight comes into play.

“So when you do the calculations [with cattle numbers], the heavier the cattle, the more beef we’re producing from an overall tonnage perspective, on the production side. And vice versa, when production is lighter,” she explains.

For example, in the latest Beef Market Update, Wasko discusses the latest Cattle on Feed report, which showed the steer carcass weight at 899 pounds in the U.S. This number shows us that we are already looking at smaller production in the U.S., especially going past the first quarter, says Wasko.

Canadian carcass weights are averaging $931, still four pounds over last year.

“And now you start looking at smaller carcass weights, it makes that production number even smaller [per head], i.e., even more bullish.”

As well, where we’ve seen those weights go up, it can be an indication the packer is potentially a bit behind, or there’s a backlog of cattle, to a certain extent. Lower weights can indicate that packers are “current” and cattle are moving well through the system.

You can find the full conversation between Anne Wasko and RealAgriculture’s Shaun Haney, in the Beef Market Update, here.

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