Feeder cattle review: Beef, cattle at record highs

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Compared to the last good test of feeder cattle which was the week ending December 20th, feeder cattle and calves sold fully $3-$10 higher with routine instances as much as $20 higher. 

There are simply no superlatives left to try and describe buyer demand and never-before-seen price levels. 

This week, all classes of beef cattle (feeders and fats) plus boxed beef cut-out values were equally entrenched into new record-high territory.  In an effort to chase-down dressed steers and heifers, both Select and Choice cut-outs blew-by record levels most recently reached in late May 2013 which included much more desirable grilling weather than mid-January. 

Friday afternoon Choice closed at $214.98 while Select ended the week’s trading at $211.58.  Finished cattle were higher once again this week with the Southern Plains feedyards selling mostly $2 higher at $139, while Nebraska feedlots reached $140 on live sales and $222 in the beef which was $4 higher than last week. 

Feeder cattle markets were even more active on fairly light receipts this past week as dangerously cold temperatures kept many producers from getting their cattle to the salebarn.  Limited direct sales were also higher but country bids have a hard time keeping up with such sharply higher prices that can only be reached in an auction setting. 

At the Bassett, NE Livestock Auction on Wednesday, a houseful of farmer-feeders pushed price levels to new all-time world record highs with over 350 head of top quality 6 weight steers averaging 638 lbs at $211.34.  A pot load of fancy red-hided 655 lb steers brought $211 and over 150 head of fancy 581 lb steers averaged $229.41. 

The nearly 400 head of Sandhill reputation 600-700 lb heifers actually sold higher than the steers, but some rationale could be realized as most of these were purchased for replacements. 

Corn prices fell to their lowest level in over three years this week which added jet fuel to the fire, but Friday’s USDA Crop Production Annual Summary reduced the 2013 corn yield by 1.6 bushels per acre to an average of 158.8 bushels. 

Feed and ethanol demand were also adjusted upward to reduce year-ending corn stocks to 1.63 billion bushels, which was still 30 percent more than the same time a year ago. 

Yet, support-starved CBOT corn contracts still surged more than 20 cents/bu Friday afternoon which could temper feeder demand should it continue. 

Heavy receipts of feeder cattle are expected next week in response to the New Year market and to a forecasted break in the weather.  Depending on how the market reacts to heavier supplies, we may be talking about the first full week of 2014 for a long time.  This week’s reported auction volume included 62 percent over 600 lbs and 40 percent heifers.

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