Most weeks an $80 decline in feedyard margins would be a near-disaster. Last week did not fall into the “most weeks” category. That’s because the $80 decline in cattle feeding margins meant cash profits still averaged $425 per head, and marked the 19th consecutive week of positive feedyard margins, according to the Sterling Beef Profit Tracker.

Cash fed cattle prices were about $3 per cwt lower last week at $126.94, though trades occurred in an extremely wide range of $124 to $134 live, and $204 to $210 dressed. The price decline didn’t help packers, as their margins declined $54 per head, though they still saw profits of more than $95 per head. The Beef and Pork Profit Trackers are calculated by Sterling Marketing, Vale, Ore.

The cost of finishing a steer last week was calculated at $1,341 per head, which is $550 less than the $1,891 a year ago.  

A month ago cattle feeders were earning $370 per head, while a year ago losses were calculated at $33 per head. Feeder cattle represent 72% of the cost of finishing a steer, compared to 78% last year.

Farrow-to-finish pork producers earned $14 per hog last week, about $9 less than the prior week. A month ago farrow-to-finish pork producers showed a profit of about $27 per head.

Pork packers saw their margins steady at $16 per head. Negotiated prices for lean hogs were $65 per cwt. last week, about $3 per cwt. lower. Cash prices for fed cattle are $6 per cwt. lower than last year and prices for lean hogs are about the same as last year.

Sterling Marketing president John Nalivka projects cash profit margins for cow-calf producers in 2017 will average $78 per cow. That would be $99 per head less than the estimated average profit of $177 for 2016. Estimated average cow-calf margins were $438 per cow in 2015.

For feedyards, Nalivka projects an average profit of $133 per head in 2017, which compares favorably with average losses of $4.25 per head in 2016. Nalivka expects packer margins to average about $51 per head in 2017, down from $114 in 2016.