Stocker-weight cattle (weighing less than 700 lbs.) sold firm to $3 higher last week, with some instances of as much as $7 higher, according to the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). Feeder-weight cattle weighing more than 700 lbs. sold steady to weaker.

“Pressure was placed on the heavier feeders as the CME cattle futures opened the week lower and packers were able to talk feedlots into an early-week trading session at price levels that were steady to $1 lower, stifling the recent fed-cattle market rally that cattle growers have cheered on for the past three weeks,” said AMS analysts Friday. They added, “Hedged feeders fell victim to an opening in the basis between cash and the maturing February live contract that fell nearly $2.50 this week to end its reign as the spot market.”

Fed cattle basically treaded water last week, trading at $89-$92; $144-$145 on a dressed basis.

For perspective on the current market strength, analysts with the Livestock Marketing Inormation Center (LMIC) explained Friday, “For the first six weeks of 2010, the five-market, fed-steer price averaged $4.33/cwt. above a year ago. For that same period, in the Southern Plains, steers at 700-800 lbs. were up about $3/cwt. and steers at 500-600 lbs. were up about $1.50/cwt. In recent weeks, year-to-year increases in cattle prices have generally been growing.”

Between tight supplies and pent-up demand, Mike Murphy, CattleFax analyst, told folks at last week’s Mid-South Stocker Conference that he expects calf prices to add another $10/cwt. over the next 60-85 days.

For the year, LMIC is looking for higher average prices across the board.

“On a quarterly basis, lower beef production is forecast to support year-to-year increases in prices of all cattle classes,” say LMIC analysts. “For the year, current forecasts put annual average fed-cattle prices just over 5% above 2009’s. Higher fed-cattle prices should set the stage for increased calf and yearling prices, of course, only if corn prices don’t surge, again. Besides corn prices, there are other uncertainties especially on the demand side of the beef market, so producers should closely pencil prospects so that they can take advantage when profits are available.”

In the short-run, the folks at AMS say, “Backgrounders continue to assemble their late-winter and early-spring grazers, but temperatures in most areas will delay available forage for a few weeks longer than normal. Mud will be the next inhibitor as frozen fields thaw out and wheat-producing farmers will want cattle moved off pastures prior to March 15.”

Looking further down the road, analysts with the Economic Research Service noted in last week’s Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook, “Another year of liquidation leaves the national cowherd at low levels not seen since 1951. This, combined with total replacement-heifer inventories at levels virtually unchanged from 2009 levels, sets the stage for a potential reduction in beef production in 2010 and beyond.

“However, lower forecast corn prices could lead to more placements of feeder cattle in feedlots, possibly at lighter weights than might otherwise be the case. If enough feeder cattle are pulled forward, both slaughter and beef production could be higher than previously anticipated. The implied longer feeding periods resulting from lighter placement weights could mitigate to some extent any increases in slaughter, though without necessarily resulting in decreased beef production, which is a function of both placement levels and dressed weights.”

The summary below reflects the week ended Feb. 26 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 59,500
SD
ND

$122.95
$121.05

$112.76
$117.18

$104.58
$104.39

$110.96
$106.52

$103.49
$102.25

$95.81
$94.46
MO 32,700 $119.99 $109.72 $103.31 $104.84 $98.43 $93.91
OK 32,300 $120.36 $111.05 $104.11 $106.24 $99.39 $95.64
KY* 24,200 $114.59 $103.62 $96.68 $99.60 $93.87 $89.30
TX 21,500 $114.70 $109.42 $101.64 $103.53 $97.48 $92.73
IA 14,800 $120.95 $111.79 $104.22 $107.17 $101.67 $95.11
NE 13,000 $125.72 $114.73 $106.63 $113.53 $104.15 $98.98
AL 12,900 $109.63 $104.58 $90.696 $94.48 $87.09 $80.32
KS 10,600 $122.31 $111.52 $104.21 $109.22 $99.29 $95.35
AR 10,400 $113.37 $106.26 $102.894 $97.36 $93.07 $91.684
TN* 9,800 $107.43 $99.76 $94.59 $94.68 $87.55 $84.39
Carolinas 8,700 $92-116 $89-103.50 $80-93 $80-90 $72-90.50 $72-83
GA*(***) 7,800 $91-112 $86-106 $92-96 $85-102 $82-93.50 $78-83
MS* 6,300 $100-1131 $95-1073 $85-955 $85-961 $85-933 $80-895
FL* 5,900 $97-115 $89-104 $88-914 $86-105 $87-91 $78-814
NM 5,800 $114.18 $104.01 $100.96 $101.59 $94.86 $87.16
MT 5,500 $125.02 ** $102.76 $111.91 $99.234 $93.776
CO 3,700 $124.55 $106.274 $102.36 $109.18 $101.15 $92.92
VA 3,400 $110.802 $97.47 $92.85 $89.63 $87.36 $83.856
LA* 3,200 $98-115 $90-108 $90-1044 $90-101 $88-97 $85-944
WY 2,100 $122.662 $116.45 $108.344 $114.69 $103.56 $98.32
WA* 1,600 $113.17 $102.674 $98.01 $104.732 $101.44 $94.65

* 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.