An early bout of grass fever produced the only bounce in last week’s cattle markets. Stocker cattle and all calves weighing under 500 pounds traded firm to $5 higher, “especially throughout the Southeastern calf markets where orders are starting to pour-in from the West as unseasonably warm temperatures and spots of moisture in drought areas have grass grazers thinking spring,” according to USDA Market News Reporter Corbitt Wall.

Heavier feeder cattle sold $3 per hundredweight lower last week while middleweight cattle 500 to 700 pounds traded mostly steady.

Lower futures markets and declines in boxed beef prices thwarted cattle feeders efforts to push the cash fed cattle market higher. Harvest-ready cattle traded at $125 per hundredweight, steady to $1 lower from the prior week’s price. A few cattle sold on a dressed basis late on Friday at $200 per hundredweight.

Boxed beef prices declined more than $1 from Thursday to Friday, and finished the week slightly lower than the previous Friday. Choice boxed beef was quoted at $182.12, down $0.44 from the previous Friday. Select boxed beef traded at $179.62, up $1 from the previous Friday. The Choice-Select spread was $2.50 per hundredweight. A month ago the spread was near $20 per hundredweight.

Heavy losses for cattle feeders continues to lower demand for heavy feeders, and softer beef demand has prevented an expect rally in fed cattle prices.

“Most industry members assumed that by now the fed cattle market would have broken through the 130.00 record-high resistance level and tighter supplies would have created a seller’s market,” Wall said.  “Not even close, this week’s direct fed cattle trade was steady to 1.00 lower at 125.00 on light demand and movement with a chain speed of less than 600,000 this week which is very unusual other than in instances of holidays or plant breakdowns.  This was the first full week of darkness at Cargill Plainview, yet boxed beef cut-out values struggled again this week and continue to hover near 180.00.”

Yet the gloom in the fed cattle market hasn’t dampened the outlook for stockers and backgrounders, who remain bullish.

“The availability of the lightweight calves was more plentiful this week with heavy offerings of froze-out calves showing up in town as owners are short of hay and attempting to prepare their cows for calving,” Wall said.

Last week’s auction receipts totaled 238,600, compared to 207,600 the previous week and 226,400 last year. Direct sales of stocker and feeder cattle totaled 62,700 with video/Internet sales at 8,500. The weekly total was 309,800, compared to 287,600 last year.

Slaughter cows and bulls sold unevenly steady to $3 higher. USDA’s Cutter cow carcass cut-out value Friday morning was $165.96 per hundredweight, up $0.43 from the previous Friday.