USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) reports three weight categories for broiler slaughter. The lightest birds go primarily to fast food operations that buy chicken by the pound and sell it by the piece. The middle category is mostly whole birds for retail and rotisserie operations.

The heavy category is for tray-pack and further processing, which gives processors more pounds of meat for the labor required to cut up each carcass. Much of the growth in chicken consumption has been in this cut-up and further-processed category, due to consumer preference for such cuts as skinless boneless breast meat, according to USDA Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook Report.

Projected broiler production for 2017 was increased because of higher than expected production in September, while projected exports were lowered for both 2017 and 2018 due to relatively weak September exports. Egg price projections were increased for the fourth quarter and the following quarter since recent prices have exceeded expectations. Whole turkey price projections were decreased further as prices have remained below historical averages. For 2018, turkey production projections were lowered 115 million pounds due to weakness in prices.

September broiler meat production was 3.4 billion pounds, slightly below last year due to one less slaughter day. A strong increase in bird weights, shown in the figure below, contributed to robust output on active slaughter days. Larger than expected bird weights were driven in part by a relatively cool summer in the South. During the summer months, bird weights showed a less pronounced seasonal decrease than the typical pattern that occurs when higher temperatures reduce bird appetites. In September, heavier bird weights may have encouraged producers to increase the pace of slaughter, since there have been some quality problems with the heavier-weight birds, i.e., “wooden” breast meat.

Looking ahead, birds should continue to be available in good numbers based upon recent chick placements. Weights are not likely to grow at the trends seen prior to mid-2016. The fourth-quarter production forecast was left unchanged, as was the 2018 forecast.

Broiler exports in September were 523 million pounds, about 11 percent below last year. Exports to most major destinations were lower, although shipments to Japan and Iraq were higher. In September, leg quarter prices (Northeast) were 27 percent higher than a year earlier, which may have reduced purchases by price sensitive buyers, especially in lower income countries where leg quarters are often shipped. Expectations for future exports were reduced, with the 2017 projection lowered to 6,713 million pounds and the 2018 projection lowered to 6,910 million pounds.

Higher September production and lower exports lead to an increase of broiler meat in cold storage facilities, with month-ending stocks up 41 million pounds from August. Much of the broiler stock increase affected dark-meat items. Projected year-ending stocks were increased to 780 million pounds for 2017 and 2018.

Weekly prices for whole broilers (national composite) held relatively stable in October and rose to 86 cents per pound for the week ending November 10. Prices will likely trend upwards after reaching the seasonal low point that typically occurs around this time of the year. Price projections for the remainder of 2017 and for 2018 were not changed.