Female prices were mixed during April, after a decline in March.

Spring green-up tends to support female prices, though this year that trend was blunted by a weaker tone in the fed- and feeder-cattle markets as grain prices moved higher.

Producers may be cautious about expanding their herds, but overall protein demand remains strong despite a slumping

American economy. Retail prices for beef, pork and poultry have all averaged even to above year-ago levels through the first three months of the year, which lends support to the slaughter female markets.

Cattle markets also gained some support last month with the news that South Korea has reopened its market for U.S. beef. The market has been closed, except for a five-month period last year, since December 2003. The opening of the South Korean market will not immediately spike beef demand, but analysts estimate demand from South Korea can increase market prices $25 to $30 per head for finished cattle. That should provide a boost to both replacement females and cows headed for harvest.

However, cow-calf operators should approach this year with caution, as economists and market observers expect calf prices to move lower, due chiefly to grain prices. Cattle feeders continue to lose money on every animal finished, and with no relief in sight on grain prices, they’re expected to put pressure on calf and feeder-cattle prices.

Beef production has been relatively large this year, a trend that is expected to continue through the spring quarter. However, lighter placements were noted during March and April, a trend that should continue through the spring quarter. The lighter placement numbers, combined with larger marketings in the second quarter, will lower total cattle on feed numbers, which supports ideas of a rally for the fed-cattle market this fall. In turn, such a rally would lend support to prices for stocker and feeder cattle, and for female markets.

Drought conditions remain a concern to many producers. Spring has provided an abundance of moisture to some areas, while leaving other regions with minimal moisture.

April prices

In Drovers’ auction market summary, young and middle-aged, bred-female prices increased $2.18, ending April at $808 per head. Aged, bred-cow prices increased $25 per head to $648. Bred-heifer prices declined $2.57 during April to $882 per head.

Young and middle-aged open females were steady during April, ending at $61.95. Prices for aged cows declined 50 cents per hundredweight to $50.75. Heiferettes ended the month at $61.30, a decline of $2.95 per hundredweight.

Prices for cows with large calves saw a decline of $15 per pair to end April at $967. Prices for cows with small calves increased $45 per pair to average $941 per pair. Small or aged cows with calves increased $47 per pair to average $749.

Prices for canner and cutter cows declined 67 cents per hundredweight during April, ending at $44.28. Utility and commercial cow prices declined $2.57 to end at $50.06 per hundredweight during April.