USDA's April cattle on feed report said the number of steers on feed was up 5.4% at the start of April while the number of heifers in large feedlots was down 10.1%. That gap of 15.5 points is the largest since October 2005. The number of heifers on feed, 3.342 million, was only 44.8% of the number of steers on feed, 7.455 million. This is the first time the heifer/steer ratio has been under 50% since USDA started this data series in 2001. Both percentages are obvious indications of aggressive heifer retention and upcoming herd growth.

The number of cattle weighing 800 pounds or more placed on feed in March was up 16.1%. The number placed weighing less than 800 pounds was down 7.8%. Placement of more heavy weight cattle mean fewer days until slaughter.

Fed cattle prices this week were higher on moderate volume. Through Thursday, the 5-area average price for slaughter steers sold on a live weight basis was $159.17/cwt, up 26 cents from last week's average and up $11.38 from a year ago. The 5 area average dressed price this week for steers was $253.90/cwt, up $1.76 for the week and up $17.52 compared to the same week last year.

This morning the choice boxed beef cutout value was $254.50/cwt, down $4.28 from the previous Friday, but up $25.26 from a year ago. The select carcass cutout was $242.38/cwt this morning, down $6.90 from last week, but up $24.12 from a year ago.

Cattle slaughter this week totaled 566,000 head, up 4.0% from the week before, but down 7.2% from the same week last year. Year-to-date cattle slaughter is down 7.4% and beef production is down 5.2%.

The average steer dressed weight for the week ending on April 18 was 872 pounds, up 1 pound from the week before and up 28 pounds compared to the same week last year. Steer weights have been above year-ago each week since June 14, 2014.

Feeder cattle prices at Oklahoma City were mostly steady to $4 higher this week. Prices for medium and large frame #1 steers by weight group were: 400-450# $306, 450-500# $278-$289, 500-550# $269-$292, 550-600# $235-$271.50, 600-650# $220-$268, 650-700# $229-$247, 700-750# $222.50-$229, 750-800# $210.25-$218, 800-900# $193-$211.50, and 900-1000#, $182-$196.25/cwt.

Cattle futures declined this week. The June live cattle futures contract settled at $149.17/cwt today, down $2.03 for the week. August fed cattle settled at $147.82/cwt, down $1.90 from the previous week. October fed cattle lost $1.62 this week to settle at $149.60/cwt. December live cattle ended the week at $150.67/cwt.

The May feeder cattle contract ended the week at $213.62/cwt, down 45 cents for the week. August feeders settled at $215.07/cwt which is 60 cents lower than the week before. September feeders ended the week at $214.70/cwt.