The average days on feed for steers in Kansas feedlots is increasing, a counter-seasonal move that saw September closeouts averaging 20 days more than the five-year average. Days on feed for heifers have followed the same general trend.
Kansas State University analysis shows that since May, the average number of days steers spent on feed tracked about six to 10 days longer than the average. Statistics also show that the counter-seasonal move began in July.
Normally, the number of days on feed peaks in April and decreases until November when cold weather takes a toll on the rate at which cattle grow and fatten. At this point, feedlot managers will tend to keep them on feed a little longer to make up the difference.
For the first three quarters of the year, the cost of growing and fattening cattle trended lower as corn prices declined and likely contributed to decisions to keep cattle a little longer for a few extra pounds. Surging costs for replacement feeder cattle and record-high per-pound prices for fed cattle also contributed to the decision to keep paid-for cattle a little longer before selling them for slaughter.
In September, the reported cost of gain was $91.49 per cwt for steers and $97.89 for heifers. These costs are getting closer to the five-year average and are about $20 to $30 per cwt below last year.
MORE DAYS MEAN HEAVIER WEIGHTS
The increased number of days on feed has been reflected in record-high dressed weights. A chart of steer dressed weights over the year shows them running 20 to 30 pounds over the five-year average but following the seasonal trend almost exactly.
That trend was broken the second week of October when the average dropped off and this year’s cattle kept getting heavier. For the latest reporting week, carcass weights were reported at 902 pounds, up 43.6 pounds, or 5.08%, from the 858.4-pound average.
Weights have held steady for two straight weeks, so they may be ready to turn lower, although last year, weights did not peak for another two weeks.
SLAUGHTER STEER PRICES SET RECORD
Slaughter steer prices last week set a record high with prices ranging from $170 per cwt to mostly $172. The average Southern Plains steer price was $171.61, according to the Livestock Marketing Information Center.
That upward trend is counter-seasonal and is a big reason for feedlots to feed cattle longer. Last week’s price was $40.07, or 30.5%, above $131.53 a year ago and $67.46, or 64.8%, more than the $104.15 five-year average.
And many analysts give this week’s cash price a better-than-even chance of being even higher, even though average wholesale beef prices are showing a tendency to flatten.
BEEF PRICES VARIED
Boxed beef prices Monday were up from Friday with much of the strength in the seasonally strong ribs and chucks. The USDA’s choice cutout was $254.27 per cwt, up $2.11 on the day, and the select cutout was up $1.74 at $240.03.
The choice/select spread widened to $14.24, but there were only 85 loads of fabricated cuts sold into the spot market.
USDA data show that much of the latest gains are in ribs and chucks. Boneless ribeyes last week were quoted at $803.56 per cwt, up $48.10, or 6.38%, from $755.38 the previous week. Chucks were up to a record-high $321.85 per cwt from $290.82 the previous week, a $31.03 increase from the previous week.
The CME Feeder Cattle Index for the seven days ended Friday was $239.19 per cwt, down $0.64 from Thursday. This was below the Nov futures settlement of $240.02.