The number of cattle on feed has increased, while the number of smaller feedlots continues to shrink, a new report says.

A greater proportion of feedlot cattle inventory is being placed in feedlots with a large capacity, while the number of small-capacity feedlots is declining.

That's one of many feedlot industry trends highlighted in a new report from the USDA's National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS).

"Changes in the U.S. Feedlot Industry, 1994-1999" compiles information from NAHMS's 1994/1995 Cattle On Feed Evaluation and Feedlot '99 study, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Cattle-Fax and the NAHMS sentinel feedlot monitoring program.

On Jan. 1, 2000, nearly 14 million cattle were on feed in the U.S. - 1.6 million more than in 1995. And, feedlots with 32,000-head or more capacity had 35.9% of the U.S. feedlot inventory. From 1997 to 2000, these feedlots had a steady 2% increase/year in their contribution to the total number of cattle on feed, the report says.

Meanwhile, the total number of feedlots declined steadily from 1996 to 1999 - a 9% decline that was predominantly in feedlots with a capacity of fewer than 1,000 head.

According to statistics from 1996-1999, the largest number of cattle is placed on feed during October; the second largest number is placed during September.

Respiratory Deaths Increase Within the NAHMS sentinel feedlot program, death loss as a percentage of cattle increased from 1% in 1994 to 1.4% in 1999. Fewer cattle died from digestive deaths, but more died from respiratory deaths.

In the major cattle-on-feed states, the percentage of dead cattle that had a postmortem examination increased substantially - from 45.9% in 1994 to 53.9% in 1999. This increase was primarily from postmortems by non-veterinarians, the report says.

The profile of cattle entering feedlots also changed during the six-year period. Heifers constituted 41.4% of beef placements in 1999 compared to 34.1% in 1994.

Feedlots owned a greater proportion of placements in 1999. The percentage of cattle placed on feed that were owned by feedlots with an 8,000-head or more capacity increased from 20.5% in 1994 to 34% in 1999, the report says.

A greater proportion of placements were purchased at auction in 1999 than in 1994, and the percentage of placements provided for custom feeding decreased slightly.

Pre- And Post-Arrival Management In 1999, a higher percentage of operations reported that pre-arrival procedures were "extremely effective" or "very effective" in reducing sickness and death loss in cattle placed at less than 700 lbs.

Most of this increase may be from feedlots that responded "does not apply" or "don't know" in 1994. That may indicate producers have become more knowledgeable about the effectiveness of pre-arrival processing, the report says.

While similar percentages of feedlots branded cattle after arrival in 1994 and 1999 (40%), a greater percentage of all cattle were branded in 1999 (29.1%) than in 1994 (20.2%).

The percentage of feedlots that fed new arrivals a ration containing 1% to 35% energy concentrate (such as corn, wheat or barley) decreased from 1994 to 1999. And, the percentage of feedlots that fed a ration containing 75% or more energy concentrate to new arrivals increased during that time, the report says.

The complete report is available online at www.aphis.usda.gov/vs/ceah/cahm, by contacting NAHMS at 970/490-8000 or by e-mailing nahmsweb@usda.gov.