Feedyard placements have run ahead of year-ago figures through most of the year 2000, but now show signs of dropping off significantly.

Several factors conspired to keep feedyard receiving pens active through the summer, including drought, scarce forage, cheap grain and a degree of optimism in the market. Through the early fall, prospects for winter grazing, particularly in wheat-pasture areas, looked bleak, further encouraging the trend for early movement of calves into feedyards.

September placements dropped 3 percent below year-ago levels, reflecting the shrinking numbers of available feeder cattle. A disproportionate number of those placements, however, were lightweight calves that would go to winter grazing programs most years. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's October Cattle on Feed report, September 2000 placements of cattle weighing 700 pounds or less exceeded last September by 201,000 head, or 17 percent. Placements of cattle weighing more than 700 pounds, however, fell behind last year's pace by 17 percent or 274,000 head.

About the same time that report became available, timely and substantial rains began falling over much of the Southern Plains area, improving the prospects for wheat grazing and increasing demand for calves and year-
lings. These factors should signal the end of aggressive feedyard placements through the rest of this year.

On-feed inventories remain high with the October 1 figure exceeding that of one year earlier by 7 percent. Fairly aggressive marketings during September, however, represent some progress toward moving through front-end supplies. Marketings during September totaled 1.99 million, 2 percent above 1999 and 7 percent above 1998. Feedyards have remained relatively current in their marketings, somewhat relieving fears of a serious backlog developing this fall.

We're now into the time of year in which weather can play a significant role in performance, affecting cost of gain, marketing schedules and slaughter weights. Last winter was one of the mildest on record for most of the High Plains feeding area, and exceptional performance continued through the summer. According to the Kansas Feedlot Performance and Feed Cost Summary from Kansas State University, steers closed out in August posted record gains for the period, averaging 3.56 pounds per day. Kansas heifers also set an average daily gain record for August closeouts at 3.05 pounds. Good performance coupled with low grain prices resulted in low cost of gain, averaging $43.43 per hundredweight for steers and $46.34 for heifers. If the weather remains mild, cost of gain should remain in the low to mid-$40 range for cattle placed this fall.

Supplies of market-ready cattle should begin to tighten over the next 30 to 60 days, bringing prices into the $70 range.