Weather continued to be the story in cattle trade last week, in terms of producers being unable to get cattle to markets. If they could, though, buyers were more than ready. Feeder-weight cattle sold firm to $3 on the week. Regionally, stocker and feeder cattle are bringing $4-$5 more than the same time period last year.

“Auction receipts were down 35% from the same week last year, and two straight weeks of weather interruptions have resulted in a year-to-date auction movement that is 18% lighter than the five-year average for the first six full weeks of marketing,” say analysts with the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). “Direct trading through the rest of the country was light, especially for current delivery, although future delivery and basis trading was moderately active and posted prices that were a premium to current levels with help from higher CME contracts.”

Fed-cattle trade began Thursday with light sales in the Northern Plains $3-$4 higher than the previous week. They ended Friday with live-cattle sales picking up $2-$2.50 in the Texas Panhandle, trading at $89 to mostly $89.50. That’s the highest level since November 2008, according to AMS. For the week, boxed-beef sales picked up about $2, closing right at $3 higher than the previous week.

The weather is obviously part of the reason as it is reducing tonnage by pushing carcass weights lower. Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC) analysts are forecasting average cattle dressed weights for the first-quarter 2010 to average 2% below last year’s first quarter.

“Relentless wintry weather has slowed chains and darkened beef and pork processing plants across the U.S. so far this year, resulting in cumulative red meat production totals that are a full 5% behind the same year-to-date total in 2009,” AMS analysts say. “On the beef side, this is partly due to lighter slaughter weights (dressed steers 19 lbs. lighter than a year ago) and fewer numbers of cows and bulls being harvested (currently running 3.8% behind last year). Frigid weather has sapped showlist tonnage and the limited auction movement has made slaughter cow and bull orders hard to fill, despite surging prices with some ground beef facilities paying over $120 dressed for a plant-delivered cow carcass.”

A week ago, CME Group’s Daily Livestock Report analysts explained, “Keep in mind that current weight declines are the equivalent of 15,000 fewer cattle coming to slaughter each week and thus will compound the impact of already light slaughter levels.” They added, “It is also possible that other factors are negatively affecting cattle weights. There have been numerous reports of the current corn crop suffering from excessive mold levels, a result of high moisture content as the crop was pulled from the field.”

The question now becomes how much negative impact those same storms could have on consumer demand.

Incidentally, though cow numbers are down (see "Cow Numbers Down – Prices Projected Higher"), LMIC analysts point out, “As expected, USDA reported that the three-state (Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas) number of cattle on small-grain pasture was above a year ago.” “The number of cattle grazing small-grain pastures in those states was 1.92 million head, up 300,000 head from 2009.”

Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist, noted last week that: "One measure of stocker-cattle production by state is to compare the estimated feeder supply to the calf crop of the previous year. The 2010 ratio of feeder supply to calf crop in Oklahoma was 1.25 indicating that the state is a significant net importer of stocker cattle. In fact, Oklahoma had the highest stocker ratio of any state this year."

He adds that other states are significant net exporters of stocker cattle including, for example, Montana, which had the lowest stocker ratio of any state at 0.42. He notes the large stocker ratio for Oklahoma illustrates, in part, the importance of the winter grazing that occurs in the Southern Plains.

For the current WASDE estimates, go to usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/

The summary below reflects the week ended Feb. 12 for Medium and Large 1 – 500- to 550-lb., 600- to 650-lb. (calves), and 700- to 750-lb. feeder heifers and steers (unless otherwise noted). The list is arranged in descending order by auction volume and represents sales reported in the weekly USDA National Feeder and Stocker Cattle Summary:

Summary Table
State Volume Steers Heifers
Calf Weight 500-550 lbs. 600-650 lbs. 700-750 lbs. 500-550 lbs. 600-650 lbs. 700-750 lbs.
Dakotas 34,300
SD
ND

$119.05
$118.92

$109.23
109.84

$102.05
$100.73

$106.79
$107.18

$99.73
$99.89

$94.30
$92.62
NE 20,900 $123.02 $111.29 $102.10 $107.48 $98.83 $94.76
MO 20,700 $114.53 $106.48 $100.25 $100.67 $96.24 $93.69
KY* 13,700 $106.67 $100.28 $94.09 $93.32 $84.95 $81.95
OK 13,300 $114.58 $102.94 $98.73 $99.87 $96.15 $93.78
IA 11,800 $118.56 $107.89 $101.32 $105.78 $98.26 $94.45
KS 10,900 $120.70 $110.57 $101.18 $104.31 $97.20 $94.03
TX 9,200 $107.88 $103.34 $94.816 $93.61 $90.67 $82.176
AL 6,600 $105.62 $96.05 $89.416 $90.47 $84.20 $80.86
CO 6,400 $123.35 $111.14 $102.31 $109.41 $98.81 $94.11
FL* 5,100 $92-111 $86-94 $78-88 $80-92 $78-83 **
WY 5,000 $127.80 ** $96.677 $109.31 $98.344 $93.556
GA*(***) 3,900 $91-112 $82-102 $78-89 $79-95 $75-88 $74-77
MT 3,800 $123.09 $107.95 $97.27 $108.71 $102.94 $91.796
MS* 3,600 $95-1051 $85-1003 $81-905 $83-931 $80-893 $72-885
AR 3,400 $109.24 $98.98 $96.264 $93.42 $89.79 $86.424
TN* 3,400 $103.43 $93.05 ** $88.64 $82.42 $81.524
Carolinas* 3,000 $92-107 $83-95.25 $77.50-87 $77-93 $70-85.50 $70-81
LA* 2,500 $98-107 $90-102 $90-994 $87-971 $80-91 **
NM 2,400 ** $93.39 $93.18 $95.11 $91.53 $80.63
WA* 1,300 ** $107.73 $100.01 $103.642 $100.42 $95.24

* Plus # 2
** None reported of the same quality at this weight or near weight
(***) Steers and bulls
(?) As reported, but questionable
NDNo Description
1500-600 lbs.
2550-600 lbs.
3600-700 lbs.
4650-700 lbs.
5700-800 lbs.
6750-800 lbs.
7800-850 lbs.
8850-900 lbs.