Through November 24, 2012 steer slaughter was down 2.4% and heifer slaughter was down 5.4% compared to the same weeks last year. Beef cow slaughter was down 12.7%, but dairy cow slaughter was up 6.2%. Year-over-year, combined cow slaughter was down 4.5%. The sharp drop in beef cow slaughter and the drop in heifer slaughter relative to steer slaughter are strong indications that America's cow-calf operations are moving toward herd expansion. This year's calf crop is smaller than the year before for the 17th consecutive year. I expect that the 2013 calf crop will be the last in this long downward trend.

Beef carcass cutout values were lower this week. On Friday morning, the choice boxed beef carcass cutout value was $193.17/cwt, down $2.58 from last Friday. The select carcass cutout was $172.23/cwt, down $1.98 for the week. The choice-select spread remains high at $20.94/cwt.

Fed cattle prices were lower this week. Through Thursday, the 5-area average price for slaughter steers sold on a live weight basis was $123.76/cwt, down $4.02 from last week, but up $1.48 from the same week last year. Steer prices on a dressed basis averaged $196.00/cwt this week, down $5.29 from a week ago and down 79 cents from a year ago. Steer dressed prices remain above the choice cutout value.

This week's cattle slaughter totaled 639,000 head, up 0.6% from last week, but down 1.1% from a year ago.

The average steer dressed weight for the week ending on November 24 was 874 pounds, up 2 pounds from the week before and up 18 pounds from a year ago. This was the 46th consecutive week with steer weights above the year-earlier level.

Oklahoma City stocker cattle prices were $4 to $6 lower while feeder cattle prices were steady to $2 higher this week with prices for medium and large frame #1 steers: 400-450# $171-$188, 450-500# $159-$165, 500-550# $152.50-$166, 550-600# $145-$159, 600-650# $142-$156, 650-700# $136-$153.25, 700-750# $138.50-$149.85, 750-800# $142-$147.50, 800-900# $140-$149.35, and 900-1000# $132-$139/cwt.

Live cattle futures prices ended the week close to where they started. The December live cattle futures contract closed at $125.87/cwt, down 85 cents from the previous Friday. February cattle settled at $130.40/cwt, unchanged for the week. April fed cattle contracts settled at $134.47/cwt, down 10 cents. The June fed cattle contract ended the week at $130.65.

January feeder cattle futures ended the week at $148.77/cwt, $3.15 higher than last Friday. March feeders closed at $151.15/cwt, up $2.73 for the week. The April feeder cattle contract ended the week at $152.40/cwt.

Source: Ron Plain and Scott Brown