Total livestock and poultry production increased about 1 percent in 2012 as declines in beef and broiler production were more than offset by increased pork and turkey production.

However, during the year drought in much of the country caused changes in production decisions.

The cattle sector, which had been poised for increased heifer retention at the beginning of 2012, was hit with loss of pasture and pond water reserves through much of cattle-raising country and a spike in feed prices as the corn crop deteriorated mid-year.

For producers in much of the Southern Plains, this was the second year of poor forage production and water shortages, further exacerbating resource tightness.

In the face of tight forage and water supplies, cow herd liquidation continued at relatively high rates in much of the country.

Nationally, federally inspected beef cow slaughter was just over 3.3 million head, down slightly from 2011 but it remained relatively high as a proportion of beginning year inventories.

Steer and heifer slaughter was also lower as supplies of cattle outside feedlots dwindled, but the decline was mitigated by cattle being sent to feedlots earlier than normal, at lighter weights, as forage conditions worsened.

Despite higher feed prices, cattle weights increased in 2012 as a combination of mild-winter weather and increasing use of beta-agonists improved feed efficiency.

The hog sector faced sharply higher costs for feed mid-year which likely changed production decisions. Early in the year, returns to hog producers were generally positive and producers increased farrowings.

As feed prices jumped, returns became negative and coupled with the uncertainty about feed prices into 2013, producers reduced farrowings in the second half of 2012.