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Commercial cow slaughter has run at historically low levels so far this year, partly due to short supplies but also indicating ranchers intend to stabilize or expand their herds. The situation remains volatile though, and with drought appearing to be expanding in the West and Southwest, weather conditions will help determine the direction of herd numbers, according to the April Livestock, Poultry and Dairy Outlook report from USDA.

The report also notes that first-quarter commercial steer and heifer slaughter is on track to be the lowest since 1965. Slaughter weights have helped offset some of that loss of numbers, and first-quarter beef production will likely be the lowest only since 2005.