A substantially higher number of dairy cows went to slaughter in July than the same month a year earlier, an indication that high feed costs are causing some herds to liquidate.

According to the “Livestock Slaughter” report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture this morning, 239,000 dairy cows went to slaughter in July, compared to 207,000 in July 2011.

That is a 32,000-cow increase, which is substantially higher than the 2,000-cow year-over-year increase in April and the 10,000-cow increase in June. Yet, in May ― before this summer’s drought set in and caused feed prices to skyrocket ― the increase was 31,000 head, which might suggest the nation’s dairy herd was already in the process of downsizing.  

The true impact of this summer’s drought may not show up until the August numbers are in.

For the week ending Aug. 11, dairy cow slaughter under federal inspection was up 7.7 percent, at 57,300 head, compared with the same period the previous year, points out Dave Kurzawski, dairy analyst with FC Stone/Downes-O’Neill in Chicago. Year-to-date slaughter levels are 4.9 percent higher than 2011 levels, with 1,857,600 head slaughtered.