KANSAS CITY (Dow Jones)--First quarter 2010 U.S. hog slaughter is projected to be down about 3% from a year ago, and smaller imports of feeder pigs and hogs from Canada account for approximately half of the reduction.

Heavy financial losses by North American swine producers during the past 2 1/2 years led to herd reduction beginning in 2008, and that continued through 2009. There may still be some light additional trimming of the herd occurring despite a rally in hog prices and lower feed costs that have put the returns for most producers back to profitable levels in recent weeks.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's monthly commercial slaughter data for January showed a 10.2% decline from the same period in 2009. However, there was one less weekday in January this year than last. February commercial slaughter came in at 2.6% below last year. Projections for March, which has one more weekday this year than last, show an increase of 3.6% despite the weekly total comparisons reflecting a drop of about 1%.

The 3% decline in the estimates for January-March commercial hog slaughter represents a figure of nearly 900,000 head. Based on USDA data, fewer imports from Canada accounted for just over half of that number, around 460,000 head, consisting of slaughter barrows and gilts, cull sows and boars for slaughter, and feeder pigs brought in five months earlier. The majority of the reduction in imports was in feeder pigs, most of which are the 10-pound segregated early weaned pigs.

Through the first 10 weeks of the year, the latest data available, total live swine imports from Canada are down about 17% from a year ago. The weekly average decline is around 24,650 head.

The number of hogs and pigs coming in from Canada has been generally declining through the first 10 weeks of data. During the latest four weeks, the average was about 111,000 head compared with 123,500 head per week in January.

Further reductions in Canada's breeding herd this winter are expected to result in even fewer imports of pigs and slaughter hogs in the months ahead, analysts said. In mid-February, Statistics Canada reported the Jan. 1 Canadian swine breeding herd was down 4.3% from a year ago, and all hogs and pigs were down 4.5%.

Friday, the USDA reported the U.S. breeding herd as of March 1 was down 4% from a year ago, while the all-hog-and-pig number was shown at 3% below a year ago. Most of the figures released by USDA were below the low end of the trade guesses.


CATTLE/HOG SLAUGHTERS

This week's cattle slaughter was estimated at 615,000 head, compared with 616,000 a week ago and 584,000 year ago. Year-to-date cattle slaughter is up 0.6% from a year ago.

The week's hog slaughter estimate was 2.188 million head, compared with 2.166 million a week ago and 2.197 million a year ago. For the year, hog slaughter is off 4.8%.


TOTAL MEAT PRODUCTION

The USDA estimated total beef, pork and lamb production for the week at 921.8 million pounds. Last week's output was 917.9 million pounds, and the year-ago figure was 914.5 million pounds. Year-to-date combined meat output is down 3.4%.

Broiler/fryer slaughter for the week was estimated at 158.234 million head, compared with 159.740 million a week ago and 155.520 million a year ago.


-By Curt Thacker, Dow Jones Newswires; 913-322-5178; curt.thacker@dowjones.com