Feeder cattle review: Calf demand solid across the country

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Compared to last week, available supplies of yearling feeder cattle sold steady to $2 higher with the full advance noted in the direct trade arenas while auction receipts were light.

Steer and heifer calf sales were unevenly steady this past week with the Southeastern markets largely steady to $3 lower, while a firm undertone was prevalent in most other regions on light receipts. 

Labor Day caused most Monday auctions to be closed, including the Oklahoma National Stockyards and the Joplin Regional Stockyards.  Plus, many Tuesday salebarns operated on light numbers as holiday interruptions caused increased market uncertainty but by the end of the week it was evident that buyer demand remains good on most classes.  The Torrington, WY Livestock Commission Company held their annual Labor Day Special on Monday with nearly 6500 head on offer.  Included in the long list of impressive sales were a 247 head string of big steers weighing 1044 lbs at $143.50, and a 46 head lot of little steer calves weighing 353 lbs at $229.00.  Farther north on Wednesday, at the Hub City Livestock Auction in Aberdeen, SD a load lot of 858 lb steers topped the market at $161. 

Yearling feeder cattle demand is noticeably better in the northern half of the country where silage cutters are chopping away at the least impressive immature corn fields, while farmers still believe their favorite fields will bring about handsome yields despite slightly lowered crop condition reports. 

Calf demand seems equally good throughout the nation with near-record price levels being reached by either their comparison to heavier feeder values or the best fall forage outlook in several years.  Late fall grass and wheat pastures should allow plenty of opportunities to put relatively cheap gains on lightweight cattle, but most growers and/or backgrounders would like to see their cattle feeding brethren start showing a profit on finished closeouts. 

The overwhelming majority of feedlot pens have steadily produced losses ranging from $75 to over $200 per head for nearly a full calendar year.  Of course risk management can help offset these, but such a poor core investment threatens to push the dwindling few independent cattle feeders out of the business.  Meanwhile, cow/calf producers and backgrounders continue to build equity in their operations but the longevity of these investments may also be in question as property values have far surpassed a cattleman’s ability to repay. 

Modern equipment and economies of scale don’t always help agricultural producers whose livelihood depends on feeding herds and keeping calves alive.  Fed cattle sold steady in the Southern Plains at 123.00 while northern feedlot trade was $1-$2 lower from $194-$195 dressed, and still passing $123 bids late Friday.  This week’s reported auction volume included 55 percent over 600 lbs and 42 percent heifers.



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