The momentum in the feeder cattle market that begin late in 2013 shows no signs of slowing down as we’re more than halfway through the month of January. USDA Market News Reporter Corbitt Wall says feeder calves and short yearlings last week sold fully stead with instances as much as $2 higher. Steer and heifer calves weighing less than 700 pounds traded as much as $5 higher while lightweight steers and bulls weighing less than 550 pounds were $5 to $15 higher.

Wall says feedlot replacements, for the first time in a long time, “pencil out better” than backgrounding lighter calves, especially, he says, if the feeders take their weights to more than 1,500 pounds. In the Plains and Midwest, steer calves weighing between 400 and 500 pounds averaged $220-$230, or slightly more than $1,000 per head. While every dollar counts and any percentage death loss could eliminate the chance to achieve a profit, Wall says by now, most calf offerings have seen enough weather to withstand the stress of relocation.

The reported auction volume last week included 55 percent over 600 pounds and 39 percent heifers.

Auctions were active last week, with auctions reporting headcounts that were more than 127,000 larger than the previous week and more than 70,000 larger than the same week a year ago. Auctions receipts totaled 363,700 with an additional 97,600 from direct sales and 137,600 in video/Internet sales for a total of 597,900. Compared to last week, total receipts were 291,500 higher and 120,700 higher than the total at this time a year ago. 

Fed cattle prices climbed higher into record territory, finishing the weekend ending Friday, Jan. 17, at $142.45 per hundredweight compared to $139.54 per hundredweight the previous week. On a dressed basis, steers sold for $227.27 per hundredweight.

With both Choice and Select topping $220 the week ending January 17, the Choice/Select spread continued to narrow and finished the week at $2.39. The last two weeks represent the largest dollar increases in boxed prices. Choice cuts sold for $231.71, while Select cuts sold at $229.32. Boxed beef prices on Friday, January 17, averaged 230.35 up 17.30.

For the week ending January 17, beef production in the United States totaled 479.8 million pounds, compared to 455.9 million pounds the previous week and 486.9 million pounds at this time last year. Last week’s cattle slaughter totaled 598,000, up from 569,000 the previous week but down from 612,000 at this time last year.

USDA's Cutter cow carcass cut-out value Friday morning was $174.17.