The cattle market lost ground in June. Fed Choice Amarillo steers held fairly steady in the $64/cwt. range through the month, $2-3 lower than in May. Feeder cattle and calf prices also weakened. A shortage of heavier kinds make solid price quotations difficult. Unlike the slaughter market, feeder prices moved as much as $2/cwt. in either direction some weeks.

The summer estimate of cattle and calves on U.S. farms and ranches totaled 106.8 million head on July 1. That's 1% below a year ago and 2% under July 1997. * All cows and heifers that have calved - 43.2 million head - fell 1% below 1998. * Beef cows - 34.1 million head - were down 1% from 1998 and 2% under 1997. * Milk cows were down 1% at 9.15 million head. * All heifers 500 lbs. and over totaled 16.6 million head, down 1% from July 1, 1998 and 3% from 1997.

Of these, beef replacement heifers - at 4.8 million head - were down 4% from last year and 9% from 1997. Milk replacement heifers rose 3% to 3.7 million head. Other heifers, at 8.1 million head, recorded no change from 1998.

* The 1999 calf crop is expected to be 38.3 million head, down 1% from 1998. This would be the smallest calf crop since 1952. The number of calves born in the first half of 1999 is estimated at 28.2 million head, down 1% from both 1998 and 1997.

These year-to-year changes in numbers are small and must be considered less significant. Unfortunately, no state or regional data is available to allow further interpretation. The statistics, in general, probably still suggest we are in the liquidation phase of the cattle cycle. If true, feeder calf availability should remain tight for the next couple of years.

Cattle Feeding DirectionsCattle and calves on feed for the U.S. slaughter market in feedlots with a capacity of 1,000 head or more totaled 9.56 million head on July 1, 4% above a year ago and 7% higher than July 1, 1997. This cattle feeding inventory consisted of 5.73 million steers and steer calves, up 5% from the previous year. Heifer and heifer calves totaled 3.78 million head, up 3% from a year earlier.

Fed cattle marketings in June reached 2.14 million head, 5% above the 1998 and 1997 level.

Placements of cattle and calves into feedlots in June totaled 1.78 million head, 14% above 1998 placements and 24% higher than June 1997.

During the month, the number of calves placed on feed weighing less than 600 lbs. was 295,000. The 600- to 699-lb. class numbered 372,000; the 700- to 799-lb. class totaled 629,000; those 800 lbs. and greater reached 488,000. Each class, except the 600- to 699-lb. category, increased substantially from a year ago.

The big percentage gains in placements were recorded in Iowa, Idaho, Washington, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and Oklahoma. In absolute numbers, however, the major increases came in Kansas and Texas.

Since the mid-year cattle inventory was also released at about the same time as the cattle on feed report, the data allows some statistical comparisons. For example, the total number of cattle and calves on feed in the U.S. on July 1 was 11.4 million head. That's 4% more than 1998 and 5% greater than July 1997. This shows that the cattle on feed figures reported each month by the large commercial feedlots represent about 84% of the national total.

The larger marketings recorded in June should help relieve some concern and allow the fed cattle market to maintain some stability through the summer. At least, the weakness of last summer might be avoided, giving us a price pattern more like 1997.

While the direction of cattle feedlot placements was encouraging in May, it reversed with a substantial gain in June. This won't help the fed cattle supply situation later this year.

The feeder cattle and calf market has a few optimistic factors. Fairly steady fed cattle prices will continue to help, along with light supplies of feeder animals. The result could easily be very little fall weakness, which is so typical in the heavy calf marketing season.

Of course, the timing of the larger fed cattle marketings expected and weather related movement of calves, will be the prime factors affecting the feeder market this fall and early winter.