"Due to the drought-induced placements of feeder cattle, Southern Plains feedlots are increasingly full of cattle. The numbers of cattle placed at lighter weights in Southern Plains feedlots will result in generally longer feeding periods and lower slaughter weights when they go to market," say analysts with USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) in this month's Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook. "Although dressed weights are increasing seasonally, they are not increasing as fast as in other years because of the large placements of lightweight calves, and atypical patterns in placement weights and fed-cattle weights are occurring.

"These lightweight placements will likely lead to slightly reduced beef production on a per-head basis, but they could result in total steer and heifer beef production for the remainder of 2011, and perhaps into the second quarter of 2012, that is close to year-earlier production."

High feed costs continue pressuring feedlots, too.

According to the Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC) earlier this month, "Cattle-feeding losses will limit feeder-cattle price gains in the near term and may cause prices to erode this fall, especially if corn costs do not moderate significantly." In the first four months of this year, as estimated by LMIC, feedlot closeouts recorded profits. Based on feeding out a 750-lb. steer in a typical Southern Plains commercial feedlot, closeouts quickly turned negative in May due to surging feedstuff costs and higher feeder cattle prices. From May through August, closeouts on a cash basis have ranged between $125 and $170/steer. Those were the largest losses since early 2009.