First-quarter broiler production was lowered on year-over-year declines in average bird weights and birds slaughtered, while second- and third-quarter production was increased on eggs set and placement data. First-quarter broiler prices were revised down on lower-than-expected February wholesale prices, according to USDA’s latest Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook report.

December broiler production was 3.2 billion pounds, more than a 3-percent decline year over year. This change was comprised of a 2.3-percent year-over-year decline in birds slaughtered and an almost 1-percent year-over-year decrease in bird weights.

The decrease in bird weights was due to a combination of lighter weights for larger birds and an increase in the proportion of lighter weight birds slaughtered. Total production for 2018 amounted to 42.6 billion pounds, more than a 2-percent increase over 2017 production and the 6th consecutive year of record production.

Based on preliminary weekly slaughter data from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, January production is expected to be characterized by a year-over-year increase in the number of head slaughtered and a decrease in average bird weights, while February production is expected to be characterized by year-over-year declines with regard to both production indicators. Based on reduced expectations for February, the first-quarter production forecast was reduced by 100 million pounds to 10.4 billion pounds.

Broiler exports in December totaled 581 million pounds, finishing out 2018 at almost 7.1 billion pounds, a 4-percent increase over 2017. Broiler shipments were encouraged by competitive prices, particularly in the second half. The average value per unit of product exported was almost 4 percent lower than 2017 average values.

Nonetheless, egg-sets and placement data from the end of December and beginning of 2019 suggest that producers intend to resume expanded slaughter, which occurred in the last week of February and is expected to last into March and well into the second quarter.

Production for the remainder of 2019 is expected to be up, driven mainly by expanded slaughter, particularly as producers ramp up supply to meet expanded processing capacity for later in 2019.

Average bird weights for 2019, however, are unclear as average weights in both the small-and large-bird category have not shown gains over the last 2 years.