Cattle sold by feedlots during January were in the black in January for the first time several months. In January, fed steer prices are the highest for any month since June 2016. January’s closeout profit was the largest for any month since the summer of 2014. Estimated closeouts by the Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC) showed that for the last seven months of 2016 every month had red ink. In fact, only two months since January 2015 were profitable when all economic costs were considered. Even though returns have improved, due to huge financial losses in recent years, cattle feeders will likely remain rather cautious when bidding for feeder cattle. 

As calculated by the LMIC, which assumes a feeder steer weight of 700-to 800-pounds, the January breakeven steer sale price was estimated at $112.00 to $114.00 per cwt. Breakeven sales prices for the next several months will remain low, ranging from about $108.00 to $112.00 per cwt. throughout the spring months. That is the lowest since early 2011.

Important adjustments between the prices of feeder steers and fed animals began in the summer of 2015 as cattle feeding losses began to eliminate huge calf and yearling premiums (i.e. feeder price premiums per cwt. relative to fed cattle prices in the same timeframe were much larger than normal). In the summer of 2015, that premium for a 700-to 800-pound steer at times exceeded $75.00 per cwt. in the Southern Plains. By year-end, that had dropped to just over $30.00. As 2016 progressed, that premium remained well below levels of earlier years. Rising fed cattle prices compared to feeder animals pushed that price difference even lower in January of this year. The lower feeder cattle prices also reflects bigger calf crops.