This has been a great year for cattle prices. For the second year in a row, every major category set new price records. Based on preliminary data, the average price of slaughter steers in Nebraska this year was $123/cwt, up nearly $8 from last year's record. 750-800 pound feeder steers in Oklahoma City averaged $146/cwt, up $13 from the 2011 record. 500-550 pound stocker steers averaged $173/cwt, up $24 from the 2011 record. Boning cows in Sioux Falls averaged nearly $77/cwt, up $7 from last year's record.

More price records are expected in 2013. The 2012 calf crop was smaller than the year before for the 17th consecutive year. USDA's December cattle on feed report said there were 6.0% fewer cattle in large feedlots than on December 1, 2011. Placements have been below year-ago for each of the last six months. June-November placements were 10.5% lower than during the same period in 2011. The low placements imply daily fed cattle marketings will be down more than 6% during the first quarter of 2013.

This week fed cattle prices were higher on light holiday volume. Through Thursday, the 5-area average price for slaughter steers sold on a live weight basis was $127.06/cwt, up 93 cents from last week and up $3.06 from the same week last year. Dressed steers prices averaged $200.00/cwt this week, up 9 cents from the week before and up $4.85 from the same week a year ago.

Beef carcass cutout values also were higher this week. On Friday morning, the choice boxed beef carcass cutout value was $193.43/cwt, up 21 cents from last Friday, but down 59 cents from a year ago. The select carcass cutout was $180.30/cwt, up $3.08 for the week. The choice-select spread, $13.12/cwt, dropped $2.88 from Friday.

Because of Christmas, this week's cattle slaughter totaled only 476,000 head, down 24.8% from last week and down 11.7% from a year ago. Year-to-date cattle slaughter is down 3.6% and beef production is down 1.3%.

Despite record feed costs and huge losses on closeouts, slaughter weights have remained quite high. The average steer dressed weight for the week ending on December 15 was 880 pounds, up 2 pounds from the week before and up 34 pounds from a year ago. This was the 49th consecutive week with steer weights above the year-earlier level.

Because of Christmas being this week, there were very few market reports on feeder cattle sales.

The December live cattle futures contract closed at $129.40/cwt, up 13 cents from the previous Friday. February cattle settled at $133.57/cwt, unchanged for the week. April fed cattle contracts settled at $137.22/cwt, down 10 cents.

The January feeder cattle futures contract ended the week at $152.02, down 15 cents for the week. March feeder cattle settled at $154.72/cwt.