"Tighter supplies are enticing order buyers on auction receipts that would have been considered light a few weeks ago," said Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) analysts Friday, explaining gains in the calf and feeder markets.

Compared to the previous week, feeder steers and heifers brought $1-$3 more, while stocker calves traded steady to $3 higher, with most of the higher prices on heifer calves. According to AMS reporters, direct feeder cattle sales ended the week as much as $4-$5 higher. They add that extra interest last week came from wheat farmers looking for calves to graze on fields damaged by the freeze week before last.

Whether it’s overall supplies or just those on hand, by last Friday retailers had also pushed boxed beef cutout values $10/cwt. higher during the preceding 10 days, according to AMS.

Closer to home, that advance helped push live fed cattle sales in the Northern Plains $2.50-$3.00 higher last week at $88.50-$90.00. Fed cattle in the Southern Plains picked up $2 on the week, trading for mostly $88 Friday.

According to the folks at AMS, “Feeder cattle futures have benefited, establishing new highs for the past three months, with fall contracts at or above their highs for the past six months as strength in the feeder cattle market is being shared throughout the country. Seasonal support and overall buying in the live cattle are keeping buyers active.”

Cattle feeders continue to bleed red ink, though.

According to the Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMC), estimated breakevens for a feeder steer (750 lbs.) placed into a Southern Plains feedlot to be sold in April are about $90/cwt.

“Looking ahead, breakevens will decline with estimated steer breakeven sales prices ranging from the mid $80s to $90 per cwt. through July. However, estimated breakeven sale prices began to increase again in early April along with the run-up in feeder cattle prices,” say LMIC analysts. “Many feeder cattle currently being placed into feedlots will only make money if corn prices decline significantly from current levels.”

The summary below reflects the week ended April 17 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.
MO 31,100 $116.52 $110.44 $103.06 $102.51 $98.28 $92.03
Dakotas 28,600
SD
ND

$119.72
$114.55

$109.81
$111.59

$104.84
$103.69

$106.03
$104.58

$101.07
$104.10

$96.63
$95.63
OK 25,800 $115.89 $108.27 $101.59 $103.26 $97.02 $93.06
KY* 23,700 $110.86 $104.65 $98.49 $94.22 $87.71 $89.89
TX 17,200 $110.17 $103.14 $99.56 $99.41 $84.15 $92.55
KS 13,300 $120.70 $114.06 $103.04 $99.83 $93.00 $89.24
IA 11,500 $117.04 $111.73 $104.08 $103.41 $96.834 $94.99
AL 9,400 $100-109 $93-101 $87.50-90 $87-96 $80-88 $77-87
NE 9,300 $120.70 $112.27 $104.46 $104.49 $102.63 $93.66
AR 6,800 $105.90 $101.26 ** $94.72 $88.80 **
Carolinas 6,300 $93.50-110.50 $85-101 $78-95 $75-94 $71-88 $73-83
TN* 5,400 $107.11 $99.38 $89.71 $92.14 $85.33 $80.96
MS* 5,200 $95-105 $84-100 $85-955 $80-901 $77-853 $74-805
FL* 4,900 $90-109 $86-97 ** $84-94 $80-87 **
CO 4,300 $122.09 $109.36 $103.13 $105.85 $91.38 $88.78
GA*(***) 4,200 $90-106 $84-102 $77-93 $81-93 $74-87 $72-83
MT 3,900 $115.292 $109.564 $97.856 $107.33 $100.99 $95.156
NM 3,600 $105.712 $106.31 $96.24 $100.86 $94.584 **
VA 3,400 $109.52 $103.78 $94.30 $89.00 $90.35 $81.93
LA* 2,900 $91-109 $95-102 ** $87-103 $81-94 **
WA* 2,400 ** $109.674 $101.40 $103.73 $101.13 $101.40
WY 1,200 ** ** $108.90 $110.22 $102.38 $92.71