The "Spring fever" that usually arrives with the greening of pasture, coupled with higher calf prices, is driving the demand for bred females and cow-calf pairs. Calf prices this year are expected to be another $5 per hundredweight higher than last year depending, of course, on factors such as a good corn crop and a strong foreign market. Domestic demand is also on the rise. These higher calf prices are expected to give additional price support to the value of bred females and cow-calf pairs.

In areas of the country where drought conditions caused producers to sell rather than retain replacement heifers, producers will be trying to get back in the market and stock their ranches. There is quite a bit of moisture and the outlook for a good grazing season is optimistic. Perhaps that's why many producers tried to get a head start to adding herd numbers by bidding aggressively on cattle in February. If the seasonal trend holds true, high female values in February will only get higher in March, April and May. The Jan. 1, 2001 U.S. Department of Agriculture cattle inventory report indicates that the beef cow herd is at the lowest level seen since 1993. Fewer cows available as demand increases, means cow prices will be shooting up this spring.

Commercial bred cow values have increased substantially according to Drovers' bred female price index. Young and middle aged bred cows returned a midpoint value of $616 in February 2001. That's statistically relevant following an average bred cow value of $575 during 2000. As that mid-point moves up, so too does the highs and lows paid for cows. On the high side it is not unusual to see young and middle aged bred cows bringing between $900 and $1,000 in the Midwestern auction markets. That's great if you're selling, not so good if you are buying.

Bred heifer values have also begun moving much higher. In February bred heifers indexed a midpoint value of $795. That's over a hundred dollars higher than they were valued last year at this time.

Cow calf pairs are steadily increasing in value as well. Small-frame pairs returned a midpoint value of $762 while cows with larger calves had a midpoint value of $753.

An improvement in demand for cow beef used in lean ground beef has helped slaughter cow prices rally substantially since December. Cattle Fax analysts attribute much of the rally in demand to fast food beef promotions. According to Drovers' female market index, utility and commercial slaughter cows averaged $44.34 per hundred-weight in February. That's a $5 increase since January and the highest average price since the start of this cattle cycle. Canner and cutters averaged $36.77, also a cycle high.