KANSAS CITY (Dow Jones)--U.S. hog futures declined modestly in most contracts in early trading Thursday on long-position profit-taking in the front months and hedge selling in the deferreds following Wednesday's sharp gains.

Most-active February lean hogs at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange were last down 0.22 cent at 78.65 cents a pound. April hogs were unchanged at 82.90 cents.

A broker said Wednesday's sharp rally, which put February at a three-month high and most of the other 2011 trading months at new contract highs, "attracted some selling interest" early in Thursday's session. The declines were limited, however, by speculative buying near the lows amid expectations of a seasonal tightening of slaughter-ready hog supplies by mid-January.

In addition, spillover support was seen from gains in live cattle futures.

Analysts and brokers said some traders elected to take an additional day off to travel or begin celebrating the Christmas holiday early, which could result in light volume for the session, typical of the last trading day before a holiday-extended weekend.

In the cash hog markets, bids from pork processors were expected to be mostly flat, with a few locations possibly weaker on light buying interest before the weekend and holiday. Some plants are out of the market until next week. Several of the buying stations and independently operated livestock markets will shut down early Thursday and will be closed Friday.

Friday's slaughter is projected to be around 135,000 to 140,000 head and the week's total in the area of 1.850 million.

-By Curt Thacker, Dow Jones Newswires; 913-322-5178;

curt.thacker@dowjones.com