Compared to last week, calves totally dominated receipts and prices were unevenly steady with most losses seen on steer calves over 500 lbs while gains were most prevalent on top quality heifer calves.  Early-week comparisons were difficult with no week-ago report available at many larger federally reported markets, due to the government shutdown. 

True yearling supplies have become extremely tight and values have remained mostly constant since breaking all-time record highs about a month ago.  Some special calf auctions in the Mountain States and Northern Plains quoted significant gains on long strings of reputation ranch calves, but demand was most noticeably improved for heifers. 

Cattle inventories are tight and heifer retention is on the rise, leaving fewer of the girls on the market for traditional feeder heifer orders plus competition from breeders looking for reputation quality replacements. 

The Philip, SD Livestock Auction featured over 12,000 head of feeders including over 3350 head of top quality 5 weight steer calves that averaged 549 lbs at $191.01, plus over 500 head of 4 weight heifer calves pegged to be future cows that averaged 478 lbs at $195.53. 

While price levels are soaring for green-conditioned yearlings and strings of fancy calves, the other side of the coin is extreme prejudice against small consignments of mixed quality and color (high-risk) unweaned bawlers that sell far behind the former and for good reason.  An untrained eye may find it unfair that there’s such a disparaging difference in the demand for calves that individually don’t appear that much different.  But, if these calves were followed to their new home and through the growing stage of their life cycle, that untrained eye would be keen by next fall.  However, small producers can add value to their calves by pre-conditioning with a full vaccination program and weaning them for at least 45 days. 

An attempt should also be made to increase the lot size at sale time, either by narrowing their calving window or by taking advantage of available co-mingling programs with other smaller producers. 

One of the great things about beef cattle production is that it can be an enjoyable part-time hobby for rural folks with a full-time job, but it’s a whole lot more fun when it’s also profitable.  Commercial cattle feeders are finally seeing profits on many of their finished closeouts as the fed cattle market has shattered its previous all-time record high of early May by trading from $131-$134 and mostly $208 on a dressed basis. 

This week’s reported auction volume included only 38 percent over 600 lbs and only 38 percent heifers.