Overall, feedyard placements have declined considerably compared with this time last year and in relation to seasonal averages. The exception to that trend, however, is the brisk placements of lightweight calves.

October placements were 9 percent below 1999 and slightly below 1998, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Placements of cattle and calves weighing less than 600 pounds, however, totaled 1.07 million head, up 5 percent from last year and 27 percent over October 1998. All other weight classes fell short of year-ago figures.

Monthly placement totals reported by USDA exceeded year-ago figures through most of this year, eventually depleting supplies of heavier feeder cattle. The natural inclination of feedyards to place calves is compounded by two other key factors – drought and inexpensive feed.

Cow-calf producers in many parts of the country, particularly the southeast and southern plains, faced serious drought and forage shortages as they entered the fall season. At the same time, a near-record corn harvest offered the promise of cheap grain well into next year. These factors resulted in many calves shipping to feedyards, rather than to winter grazing programs.

Heavy placement of calves this fall will have several long-term effects on the market. One is that stocker operators will find tight supplies of short yearlings for their grazing programs next spring. Feedyard placements likely will run well below normal through the spring and summer, since cattle that feeders normally would purchase from backgrounding operations during that period already are on feed. Finally the fed-cattle market, and the distribution of market-ready cattle could change next spring and summer. Many of the cattle placed this fall will not reach market weights until late spring or early summer. Also, calves tend to be more variable than yearlings in terms of rate of gain and time on feed, meaning that marketings likely will spread over a longer time period next year.