Feeder Cattle Review: Markets play catch-up after Thanksgiving

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Compared to last week, feeder cattle and calf markets were active following the Thanksgiving holiday week with many markets selling two weeks’ worth of receipts. 

Price trends were split with the Southeast and Southern Plains trading mostly steady to $2 lower on heavier feeding calves while lighter weights were $1-$4 lower especially throughout the Southern calf auctions. 

Midwestern and Northern Plains calf markets were fully steady to $2 higher on more attractive offerings with many of the best producers marketing their calf crop this time of year north of I-70 which will continue through January. 

Southern demand was hampered by the approaching ice storm that arrived late in the week and halted travel from east Texas diagonally through Arkansas and into Kentucky.  The arctic blast was bitter cold with spotty snowfall in the upper central portions of the United States but these natives are more acclimated to the cold and shrug it off as just the time of year. 

With temperatures near zero in Ogallala, NE on Thursday the local salebarn sold 5800 head of feeders on an active market with a half load of fancy hard-weaned 455 lb steer calves at 255.50, similar 5 weights from $201-$219, and a load of light 6 weight steers at $198.  Many of these top quality calves were reportedly sent south to Kansas wheat pastures to grow on cheap gains before heading back to Nebraska feedlots this spring. 

Feeder cattle price levels continue to defy gravity with the most reasonable feedcosts and availability in several years behind the constant and consistent boost.  CME cattle futures contracts have also been fairly cooperative with this fall’s record-high feeder markets, but there’s not nearly the hedging pressure from cattle growers and feeders as there has been the last several rounds when the Board was the only hope to scratch out a profit. 

Cattle investors are much more confident in their purchase when they have a good handle on their feed inputs, even when they are paying over $1100 for a calf that might run between their legs without incident. 

Speculative demand has arrived in the slaughter cow auctions that recently occurred without much help other than a couple packer buyers and an auctioneer.  Reports of $2500 bred cows and $3000 pairs has stirred about anybody with a gooseneck and a bale of hay to try and pluck somebody’s possibly pregnant cull cow or one with enough youth to give another try. 

Tight inventories have fully trickled all the way down and beef cattle of any class are highly sought after and appear to be secure property for at least the next three years.  Finished cattle in Texas and Kansas feedyards sold steady at $132 this week while Northern feedlots traded $1-$2 lower from $208-$209.  This week’s reported auction volume included 44 percent over 600 lbs and 38 percent heifers.

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