Among feedyards with 1,000+-head capacities, Texas, Kansas and Nebraska — in that order — traditionally top the states in feeding numbers, says Darrell Mark, University of Nebraska economist. But severe winter weather, high corn prices and an abundance of ethanol-production byproducts has been shifting feeder numbers north in recent months.

February cattle-on-feed data has Nebraska with the second-largest number of cattle on feed in lots with 1,000+ head capacities, a 24% jump in numbers since September 2006. In addition, Iowa and South Dakota increased on-feed numbers by 17% and 48%, respectively, during the same time period.

Mark cites several reasons for the shift:

  • December-February winter storms in the Southern Plains substantially lowered feeding performance, resulting in fewer southern cattle placed on feed.

  • The average corn price in the Texas Triangle area was $3.73/bu. from September-February — 54¢/bu. higher than the average Omaha, NE, price during that time.

  • Cattle feeders in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota have more access to co-product feeds from nearby ethanol-production facilities.

“The extent to which these geographic shifts in cattle numbers will continue or become permanent isn't yet known,” Mark says.