Cattle prices were record high this year. Based on preliminary data, slaughter steers averaged $114.85/cwt of live weight. That is $19.54 above the old record set just last year. At Oklahoma City, 750-800 pound feeder steers averaged roughly $133.57/cwt, which is $24.51 higher than in 2010 and $22.63 above the annual record set in 2005. For 500-550 pound feeder steers, this year's average at Oklahoma City was about $149.60/cwt, up $24.27 from 2010 and $17.41 above the 2005 record.

The 2011 calf crop was smaller than the yearbefore for the 16th consecutive year. The outlook is for fewer cattle and more record prices in 2012. USDA is forecasting a 4.6% drop in beef production leading to fed cattle prices averaging above $120/cwt.

Fed cattle prices were lower this week in extremely light volume. The 5-area average price for slaughter steers sold through Thursday of this week on a live weight basis was $124.00/cwt, down $1.38 from last week, but $17.69/cwt above the same week last year. Steers sold on a dressed weight basis averaged $195.15/cwt, $6.27 lower than the week before, but $26.04 above a year ago.

Beef cutout value was higher this week. On Friday morning, the choice boxed beef carcass cutout value was $194.60/cwt, up $2.32 from last week. The select carcass cutout was up $3.29 from the previous Friday to $179.71 per hundred pounds of carcass weight. The choice-select spread, $14.90, was down 97 cents from a week earlier, but is $8.90 higher than a year ago. The cutout value of choice steers is $0.55/cwt below the dressed weight cattle price, a bit more normal relationship.

This week's cattle slaughter totaled 539,000 head, down 9.9% from the week before and down 4.9% compared to a year ago. The average steer dressed weight for the week ending December 17 was 846 pounds, down 7 pounds from the week before and down 6 pounds from a year ago. For the year, cattle slaughter was down 0.5% and beef production was down 0.4%.

Feeder cattle sales were light this week because of the holidays. Oklahoma City did not have a sale this week. Prices this week at Missouri auctions were steady with light sales volume. Price ranges for medium and large frame #1 steers: 400-450# $160-$190, 450-500# $170-$180, 500-550# $151-$178, 550-600# $139-$174, 600-650# $136-$158.50, 650-700# $134.50-$155, 700-750# $143-$149.50, 750-800# $132-$135.50, 800-850# $134.25-$135.75/cwt.

The February live cattle futures contract settled at $121.45/cwt today, down $2.87 compared to last Friday. The April contract closed at $125.45/cwt, off $2.40 for the week. The June contract settled at $124.57/cwt. August ended the week at $125.90/cwt.

The March corn futures contract ended the week at $6.465/bushel, up 27 cents from the week before and 64 cents higher than two weeks earlier.

Source: Ron Plain