Fed cattle dressed weights are down and appear to be headed lower again after a gain two weeks ago, but weights should be turning higher.
The USDA’s estimate of average live slaughter weights last week was 1,312 pounds down seven from 1,319 the previous week and 17 pounds below last year’s 1,329 pounds.
Slaughter rates are up, resulting in total beef production last week of 483.9 million pounds, compared with 477.5 million the previous week and 471.5 million last year.
Fed steer dressed weights last week averaged 836 pounds, compared with 863 pounds the previous week and 841 pounds for the 2011-2015 average, as compiled by the Livestock Marketing Information Center using data from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service and the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
TREND TURNS HIGHER
The seasonal trend from the five-year average shows a bottom in average fed steer dressed weights the last week in April at 837.8 pounds. As of last week, the bottom for this year may have taken place the first week of May at 832 pounds.
That’s right on schedule unless steer carcass weights drop to those previous USDA estimates of 791 pounds last week and 795 pounds the previous week.
The seasonal for higher dressed weights is pretty strong since it involves the physiology of the animal and common feeding practices. By May, the industry is running low on those calves that were placed on feed last fall as calves and is getting into more cattle that were placed as heavier yearlings late in the fall or early in the winter.
The lighter-weight calves will come out of the feedlots lighter than their heavier cousins, so the fewer there are of them in the total slaughter mix, the heavier the average carcass weight will be.
Peak average carcass weights generally come about the third week of October as colder weather conditions limit cattle growth and fattening. Also, the industry starts killing some of the calves that were placed in mid-summer as pastures fade. The 2011—2015 average peak was 888.2 pounds.
FEEDLOTS PUSHING CATTLE THROUGH
The extra-low slaughter weights and their delayed bottom shows that feedlots are pushing cattle out the gates as quickly as packers will accept them, market sources said. If they were holding cattle back, weights would be climbing unseasonably.
And well they should. The LMIC estimated the monthly cattle price for April at $130.19 per cwt on a live basis. This compares with an average estimated breakeven price of $113.10 per cwt.
Cattle prices have been above feedlot breakevens all this year, and projected breakeven prices could range from $107.65 per cwt to $114.03 through August, leaving room for profitable times for cattle feeders.
CASH CATTLE QUIET
Fed cattle traded on the livestock exchange Wednesday at an average of $132.18 per cwt on a live basis, down $0.36 from $132.54 a week earlier. Cash trading then took place at $131.25 to $132.50, steady to down $0.75.
However, the bulk of the week’s trading took place on Thursday at $136 to $137.50 per cwt on a live basis, up $4 to $5, and at $215 to $216 on a dressed basis, up $7.
The USDA’s choice cutout Thursday was up $0.04 per cwt at $245.58, while select was off $0.96 at $217.22. The choice/select spread widened to $28.36 from $27.36 with 160 loads of fabricated product sold into the spot market.
The CME Feeder Cattle Index for the seven days ended Wednesday was $147.11 per cwt, up $1.58. This compares with Thursday’s Aug settlement at $157.07, up $4.50.