The number of cattle placed into U.S. feedlots in January rose 11.0 percent from a year earlier, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported on Friday, the largest number in three years and nearly matching analysts' average forecasts.

Positive January profits for feedlots allowed them to buy more younger cattle for fattening on their way to packers, said analysts.

Periods of low cattle prices resulted in an increasing number of heifers landing in feedlots instead of ranchers retaining them to grow their herds.

Cattle placed in feedyards last month should come to market beginning in July, which could mean weaker cattle prices this summer, according to analysts.

USDA's report showed January placements at 1.981 million head, up from 1.779 million last year and marginally higher than analysts' average forecast of 1.977 million.

It was the third largest for that month since 2.014 million head in January 2014.

The government put the feedlot cattle supply as of Feb. 1 at 10.782 million head, up 1 percent from 10.709 million a year ago. Analysts, on average, had forecast a 0.7 percent gain.

The government said the number of cattle sold to packers, or marketings, grew 10.0 percent in January from a year earlier, to 1.751 million head.

Analysts had projected a 9.8 percent rise from 1.589 million last year.

Friday's report was unsurprising because it was close to pre-report estimates, said Allendale Inc chief strategist Rich Nelson.

He said January was the third month in a row that placements had risen by more than 10 percent, due to smaller September and October placements and lower cattle prices for cow/calf operators, causing some of them to not expand their herds.

"This (report) will likely confirm futures expectations of lower cattle prices this summer," Nelson said.

However, he said, recent monthly placement increases could result in "less threatening" cattle supplies in October and November.

Jim Robb, Livestock Marketing Information Center director, called the report "a non-event" other than the revamped weight class category.

Feedlots in January turned a profit for the first time since April 2016, said Robb. "When cattle feeders are making money, it is the added incentive for them to place cattle." 

Analysts called the report neutral for Monday's CME live cattle market that on Friday tumbled in anticipation of a bigger placement outcome.

Futures should rebound slightly on Monday because the January result was "not a horrible placement number," said Nelson.