Fed cattle prices seem to be on cruise control in the shortened week where auctions sold light receipts following the Monday holiday.

Fed cattle remain locked in at $123, calf demand picks upWhile cash trade remains even, buyer demand was solid for most classes, including yearling feeders which were steady to $2 higher last week. Calf demand is solid across the country selling at near-record levels by either their comparison to heavier feeder values or the best fall forage outlook in several years according to USDA Market News reporter Corbitt Wall.

Like the previous week, yearling feeder trade is aggressive in northern states where access to corn and grazing pastures is more plentiful.

While cow-calf producers and backgrounders are enjoying higher prices on good demand, cattle feeders continue to sell at negative profit margins.

According to Wall, “the overwhelming majority of feedlot pens have steadily produced losses ranging from $75 to over $200 per head for nearly a full calendar year.  Of course risk management can help offset these, but such a poor core investment threatens to push the dwindling few independent cattle feeders out of the business.”

Last week’s auction receipts totaled 134,100, compared to 165,200 the previous week and 156,300 last year. Direct trade totaled 36,700 with video/Internet at 9,000 for a total of 179,800, compared to 211,600 last year.

Fed cattle prices were steady at $123 while trade from northern feedlots were between $1 and $2 lower and dressed sales going for $194-$195 per hundredweight.

Boxed beef cutout values were weak on light-to-moderate demand and moderate offerings. Boxed beef prices ended the week down 97 cents from the previous Friday, averaging $188.21.

The Choice/Select spread is at 14.04 with Choice sales at $195.23 and Select sales at 181.19.  Choice boxed beef prices were 44 cents lower than the previous Friday while the bigger fall was seen in Select prices, down $1.47 from the previous Friday.

Choice boxed beef prices moved higher but fell the final two days of the week last week. Traders will keep an eye on beef production as slaughter numbers have been trending lower, but heavier weights have made up the difference. This week marks the end of some slaughter facilities accepting Zilmax-fed cattle which will likely equate to smaller cattle and lower beef production moving into 2014.

Slaughter cows and bulls sold unevenly steady. USDA’s cutter cow carcass cut-out value Friday morning was $166.22, down 39 cents from the previous Friday.