The forecast for first-quarter 2012 U.S. broiler meat production was revised upward another month, by 200 million pounds to 9.1 billion pounds, still 2.6 percent lower than in the first quarter of 2011, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The revision was largely due to a higher-than-expected number of birds slaughtered in both January and February, said the USDA. Broiler meat production in January was down only 1.1 percent, although broiler hatchery data had pointed toward a greater reduction. In February, broiler meat production was 2.95 billion pounds, up 3.6 percent from 2011 numbers (due partially to the additional slaughter day because of the Leap year).

During the first two months of 2012, the total number of broilers slaughtered was 1.83 billion, up 0.7 percent from the same period in 2011. In addition, the average liveweight at slaughter has been 5.83 pounds, also a small increase (0.4 percent) from 2011 numbers. Preliminary estimates point toward a strong decline in broiler meat production in March. The number of birds slaughtered is expected to be lower, and the fact that March 2012 has one less slaughter day than in 2011 will also reduce production.

The production estimate for the second quarter of 2012 has been increased slightly to 9.1 billion pounds, 50 million pounds higher than the previous estimate. The estimates for the third and fourth quarters remain the same, and the revised forecast for 2012 production is now 36.6 billion pounds, 1.7 percent lower than in 2011.

With the decrease in broiler meat production during the fourth quarter of 2011 and an expected decline in the first quarter of 2012, broiler stock levels have fallen rapidly over the last several months. Ending first-quarter 2012 broiler stocks are expected to total 550 million pounds, down 111 million pounds (17 percent) from the first quarter of 2011.

At the end of February, cold storage holdings were 568 million pounds, down 17 percent from 2011 numbers, and were lower for all of the broiler categories except thigh meat. Stocks of legs and wings, down 45 and 52 percent, had the largest percentage declines. Since the forecasts for broiler exports in both first and second quarter of 2012 have been lowered, the forecast for broiler stocks in the second, third, and fourth quarter have all been increased slightly.

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