Feeder cattle review: Spring weather fuels cash and feeder demand

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Compared to last week, feeder cattle prices opened slightly higher and quickly posted rather sharp gains by midweek to close 2.00-6.00 higher with the full advance placed on heavy yearlings over 850 lbs.  Stocker cattle and calf values took a similar tour and ended up fully 5.00-10.00 higher in spots where they were well tested in the Plains and the Midwest.  Southeastern calf markets were unevenly 3.00 lower to 3.00 higher, but trading had slowed down by the time demand reached its potential and shippers were stuck with the orders they started their loads with on Monday morning. 

Volatility is the only rule that feeder markets abide lately with demand rarely driven by sound fundamentals, just as this past week’s weekly session totally ignored last Friday’s bearish placement figures on the cattle-on-feed report.  Spring forecasts finally surfaced with sunshine and seasonal temperatures expected to soon spark pastures and allow for corn planting which fueled demand in both cash and futures feeder markets. 

Unpredictable attitudes are dictating market direction of late, resembling a poker game where every player is either all-in or folded on every hand.  These are results of an industry yearning for profit as the last six months have not allowed anybody in the cattle business to make money.  Feedcosts have bullied backgrounders and feedlots deep into the red, while packers have also been operating in reportedly negative margins for quite some time.

In these instances, the cow/calf man is usually the beneficiary but feed and water shortages from multiple droughts have pushed the cost of production beyond the market.  All these participants are leery but none wants to be caught with empty pens or pastures when profit opportunities reappear.  Nationwide auction receipts were fairly heavy again this week especially across the Northern Plains where adverse weather has kept cattle from coming to town for weeks.  Many producers are selling big calves that would normally be held for summer yearling specials. 

The Bassett, NE Livestock Auction sold a 250 hd string of 715 lb non-hormone treated steers for 155.75 and another two loads weighing 845 lbs for 140.10.  Where rain has been plentiful demand has returned for female replacements and price levels are reaching the lofty levels many thought would be commonplace this spring.  The Eastern Missouri Commission Company in Bowling Green, near the jumped banks of the Ol’ Muddy saw top quality first and second-calf heifer pairs bring from 2225.00-2875.00 last Friday. 

The fed cattle market found itself once again at the record glass ceiling, selling 2.00-3.00 higher from 128.00-130.00.  This week’s reported auction volume included 56 percent over 600 lbs and 45 percent heifers.



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