The last full week in December, live fed steers averaged $130.03/cwt. Choice wholesale beef cutout value was $198.22/cwt. Choice beef advanced to $240.05 on Jan. 22, up 21% over that stretch. The bulk of this week's cash fed cattle traded around $150, up about 15%.

Everybody expected cattle complex prices to march record high sometime in 2014. A period of extended cattle production losses, consecutive years of drought and stratospherically high prices for 2012 crops trimmed the U.S. cattle herd to the lowest level in more than 50 years. But few expected cattle complex prices to zoom this high this early in the year.

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