Feeder cattle review: Calf prices turn positive

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Compared to last week, feeder cattle sold firm to $3 higher on the heels of last week’s bullish cattle-on-feed report but many major marketing areas actually noted that the full advance of the market was more evident late in the week. 

For the past few weeks, feeder markets have posted new localized highs on yearlings over 700 lbs but this week the nationwide feeder cattle market broke the all-time record!  On Tuesday, the CME Feeder Cattle Index (based on a seven day moving weighted average of 650-849 lb Federal-State reported feeder steer sales throughout the high producing central twelve state area) broke the previous record of $157.44 posted the last week of February 2012. 

The index price then continued inching toward $160 later in the week.  These prices are absolutely unprecedented and aided by declining numbers of true yearlings and outstanding demand, especially north of I-70 where corn producing farmer-feeders have been active participants.  Calf prices continue to benefit from the trickle-down market support and sold steady to $5 higher this week with the Southeast turning positive after trading lower in recent weeks.  Despite volatile fall weather temperatures and a heavy influence of high-risk, unweaned new crop calves in the offering; calf values increased across the country as wheat grazing demand in the Southern Plains and winter backgrounders farther north collectively entered the market. 

Lightweight calves in parts of the Central US were routinely quoted $10 higher and as much as $20 higher as buyers went after them in an effort to keep the price-per-head down and maximize their options.  At the Torrington, WY Livestock Commission on Wednesday, a 105 head string of fancy 400 lb steers brought $224 as many Midwestern lightweights easily surpassed the $2.00/lb mark without raising too many eyebrows in the salebarns.  However, calf markets are still a ways from reaching all-time highs and price levels really seem fairly affordable after watching yearlings sell. 

In Valentine, NE on Thursday, a load of 900 lb steers brought $163.50 and over 250 head in the top quality 750-800 lb range averaged 767 lbs at just over $181.  It’s plain that cattle feeders are starting to turn a meager profit on a few of their better performing pens or cattle they were able to get bought worth the money.  By Friday afternoon, Southern feedyards were passing $2 higher bids of $126 as the entire cattle complex seems to be headed in the right direction.  Northern feedlots posted dressed sales up to $4 higher at $200. This week’s reported auction volume included 53 percent over 600 lbs and 41 percent heifers.



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