Last year, U.S. beef producers thinned their breeding herds significantly in response to rising costs, drought and other economic factors. The culling rate among beef cows has declined this year, according to the LivestockMarketingInformationCenter, but the large number of dairy cows going to market has resulted in an overall increase in cow slaughter for the first half of 2009.

As of mid-June, total federally inspected cow slaughter on a weekly average basis was about 3 percent higher than last year and nearly 16 percent larger than the 2003 to 2007 average, according to LMIC. Beef cow slaughter for this period was down on average about 6 percent from last year but still around 13 percent higher than the prior five-year average. Dairy cow slaughter through mid-June, however, was 15 percent above a year ago and nearly 20 percent larger than the five-year average.  LMIC notes that dairy cows have accounted for nearly half of the total cow slaughter mix this year.

Read more.