USDA feeder cattle market: Yearling feeders steady

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Compared to last week, yearling feeder cattle sold mostly steady while calf prices were uneven.  The 450-650 lb calves on offer this week were mostly unweaned and traded at prices that were steady to weak with weather patterns already starting to become a challenge with wide temperature swings between daytime highs and nighttime lows.  However, pee-wee calves under 450 lbs were 5.00-8.00 higher and continue to gain admirers who are looking at dollars per head and the nearly endless options that these lightweights bring. 

Featherweight calves are once again topping the 2.00/lb mark at salebarns across the country while price levels grow even loftier on private treaty or video sales if buyers don’t have to take delivery until later in the year.  On the Northern Livestock Video on Monday, a string of 400 calves with a base weight of 440 lbs and a late December delivery offered added value by being sired by black Waygu bulls and brought 224.00 with both steers and heifers selling at the same price. 

Many feeder markets noted pressure on weights over 800 lbs while lighter-weight yearlings experienced mild gains.  Normally lighter yearlings experience more demand as feedlots anticipate cheapening the cattle while on feed, but this time buyers want lighter feeders simply because they finish at a later date.  In fact, cost-of-gains are outpacing the value of fed cattle and prices for feedlot replacements should become inverted - with heavier-weight yearlings selling at a higher price per cwt than the lighter cattle that require a longer feeding period.  Back when all feeding facilities fed a highly concentrated corn ration, a cost-of-gain estimate could be obtained simply by doubling the corn price and moving the decimal (4.00/bu corn equaled an 80 cent cost-of-gain).  Now, much more specialized rations take advantage of distiller’s by-products and other substitutes to cut costs – but the old timer’s calculation still puts costs in the right direction which can be terrifying with 8.00-8.50/bu corn. 

The cost per pound of gain will vary widely depending on a feedlots access to silage or any type of affordable feed, but the figure will be well over 1.00/lb and likely higher than the fat cattle market for most of the next year.  Any source of forage can help alleviate feed cost fears and cattle growers have high hopes for fall wheat pasture or anything that can put weight on cattle at a reasonable price.  Fed cattle sold steady to firm on a live basis from 120.00-121.00 with dressed sales 2.00-3.00 lower from 187.00-188.00 as market-ready supplies seem to be larger in the areas that traditionally sell in-the-beef.  Rain clouds are starting to reappear across our nation’s mid-section with curious storm systems leaving significant moisture in places like Las Vegas, NV which had its second largest one-day amount on record this past Wednesday.  This week’s reported auction volume included 54 percent over 600 lbs and 40 percent heifers.



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