In The Cattle Markets

By: Tim Petry, Livestock Economist

Lower Cattle on Feed Numbers

USDA-NASS released the February Cattle on Feed report on Friday, Feb. 22. Cattle and calves on feed for slaughter market in the U.S. for feedlots with capacity of 1,000 or more head totaled 11.1 million head on Feb. 1, 2013. The total was 738,000 head or about 6.2 percent lower than one year ago. Pre-report estimates of analysts by Dow-Jones and Bloomberg estimated about a 6.2 percent decline, so the lower numbers were no surprise to the industry.

Placements into feedlots during January totaled 1.88 million head, about 1.6 percent more than last year. The average of pre-report analyst’s estimates was for just a slight increase.  About half of the analysts expected smaller placements with the other half expecting larger placements up to 4 percent above last year. The variations in placement expectations somewhat coincided with actual state-by-state variations. There were 29,000 more head placed in the U.S., but Nebraska placed 45,000 head more and Kansas placed 20,000 head more than last year. Declines were noted in several states including Iowa, Texas, Idaho, and Washington. The increase in placements occurred in the heavy weight categories with the over 800 lbs. category increasing 54,000 head, 700-799 lbs. increasing 10,000 head, 600-699 lbs. declining 35,000 head and the under 600 lb. category staying the same.

Marketings of fed cattle totaled 79,000 head during January, up about 5.6 percent over last year and a little above analyst’s expectations. However, when accounting for the extra slaughter day this year, marketings were up less than 1 percent.

Looking at the individual classes on feed, steers and heifers were down 3.2 percent from a year ago with heifers and heifer calves down 9.5 percent and cows and bulls also down about 9.5 percent.

The report also showed the total number of feedlots, inventory, and marketings by size of feedlot in the U.S. for 2011 and 2012. The number of feedlots with capacity of less than 1,000 head declined from 75,000 in 2011 to 73,000 in 2012. Feedlots with 1,000 head or more capacity declined from 2,120 to 2,100. The 1,000 head and over feedlots marketed 88.6 percent of fed cattle marketings in 2012, up from 87.7 percent in 2011 – a trend that has been discussed in this column before.

The Markets

Fed cattle prices were higher last week as a winter storm disrupted some movement of cattle from feedlots to packers. Across the 5-area market, liveweight steer prices averaged $123.82 per hundredweight, up $1.01 for the week. Dressed weight prices increased $1.39 to average $197.15 for the week. The boxed beef market continued to be under pressure from several demand issues that have been discussed in this column the last couple of weeks. Choice boxed beef prices closed down 56 cents at $182.51.  Feeder cattle movement was also disrupted by the storm with a number of volume auction markets in the Plains closed. Feeder cattle and calf prices were uneven and generally ranged $3 lower to $3 higher with even greater variations at some markets. Corn prices in Omaha on Thursday were down 4 cents at $7.15.

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