USDA reports a 15% drop in new cattle coming into the nation’s feedlots, foretelling another tightening of meat supplies later this year.

The report showed 11.5 million cattle on feedlots on April 1, up from 11.2 million a year earlier. But 1.52 million animals were newly-placed on feedlots after their first year on grass, down 15% from the almost 1.9 million placements on April 1, 2011.

Most grain-fed cattle spend their last four months of life on feedlots receiving a concentrated diet to bring them to the requisite 1,300 lbs. before slaughter.

Analysts had warned that the nation’s supply of cattle, already at a 60-year low last year because of thinned herds, would drop further as a consequence of the drought that hit the southwestern U.S., where the bulk of the nation’s cattle are born, in 2011.

“This is a very bullish report. No need to mince words. Supply down, demand up,” says Mark Gold of Top Third Ag Advisors in Chicago after the report issued Friday.

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