CHICAGO - The number of cattle placed in U.S. feedlots in January rose for the first time in eight months, a government report showed on Friday, a sign that the worst drought in more than half a century continued to impact the industry.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture showed placements up 2 percent from a year earlier to 1.876 million head, showing its first monthly increase since May. The average of analysts estimates was for a 0.4 percent gain.

Ranchers have been forced to move cattle into feedlots from drought-damaged pastures.

USDA put the supply of cattle in feedlots on Feb. 1 at 11.073 million head, or 93.8 percent of the year-ago, which matched the average trade estimate.

The government said the number of cattle sold to packers, or marketings, in January was up about 6 percent from a year earlier at 1.917 million head versus a forecast for a 4.8 percent increase.

Analysts said the larger-than-expected placements could weigh on deferred live cattle contracts at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange when the market reopens on Monday morning.

They said the higher-than-expected marketings may support nearby cattle contracts.