Feeder cattle and calf prices uneven, market remains volatile

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Compared to last week, feeder cattle and calf prices across the country were uneven again for the third straight week as multiple market variables continue to pull prices in both directions.  Most major cattle production areas received a reprieve from the sweltering heat this past week which improved demand for all classes, especially higher risk feeders including unweaned calves.  Backgrounders north and east of the worst drought areas have noticeably stepped-up their interest in lightweight calves (under 450 lbs) as the market outlook for fall and beyond continues to brighten.  Most of the fall calf run has already occurred in the Southwest and many producers in this area that normally grow their own calves into yearlings have marketed their cattle several months and several hundred pounds earlier than normal. 

National news anchors have set up their cameras in Texas salebarns over the last several weeks to show the desperate situation the drought has caused. It’s hard to believe unbiased market reporting in the Lone Star State will cease in two weeks and the only information available will have to come from the auctions themselves, like a restaurant publishing reviews of their own menu.  Texas politics totally cut an already belt-tightened budget that dependably reported over 20 markets every week (roughly 2 million head of cattle, sheep, and goats) on an annual allowance that wouldn’t buy two loads of cattle.   Yearling feeders opened the week on a lower undertone but ended the trading session slightly improved with help from the surprisingly stout fed cattle market in the face of an extremely volatile Dow Jones Industrial Average.  Feedlots traded showlists 3.00-4.00 higher from 116.00-117.00 live and mostly 7.00 higher dressed at 185.00 with support from Labor Day demand which also boosted slaughter cow prices that have been under pressure for several months from drought sell-offs. 

Many Southwestern cattle ranchers have now totally ran out of options and the hay situation through the mid-section of the United States has become colossal.  Hay brokers from Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas are beating the bushes as much as 1000 miles away in search of any quality of bales to fill needs in parched areas.  A convoy of trucks can be seen heading in this direction loaded with roughage, even egg-shaped half rotten round bales from seasons past plucked from hedge-rows in the Midwest.  Dairies are the most reliant on hay for their rations and next in line are horse people who have a personal attachment, leaving the cow/calf man between a rock and a dry place.  Delivered alfalfa has now been quoted up to 300.00/ton, but for many - price is no longer a bargaining tool and simple availability is the only variable on which to haggle.  This week’s reported auction volume included 42 percent over 600 lbs and 43 percent heifers.



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