Cattle Dress Weights Overdue For A Downturn

Slaughter steer dressed weights are overdue for a decline.

Steer dressed weights continue to climb with no end in sight except last year’s annual high of 930 pounds the second week of October.  The 2010-2014 average tops out at 874.8 pounds the third week of October.

So steer dressed weights can be said to be past a turning point.  They should have already begun to turn down into the end of the year.

Cow/calf producers are keeping them on grass longer this year because mild temperatures have kept many kinds of grass green for much longer than is normal.  Wheat pasture in much of Kansas at least also is growing, getting ready to support its share of calves through much of the winter.

For their part, cow/calf producers are looking at a reduced ratio of prices for feeder calves and fed calves.  The narrowing ratio makes it more attractive to hold calves on grass for as long as possible before selling them to the feedlots.

Some market analysts continue to be convinced that many Corn Belt feedlots are being reopened in order to keep the calves home and feed them on the farm – a process known as “walking the corn off the farm” rather than hauling if off in a truck.




To answer the question of whether weights can go much higher, the answer is a solid “yes, but….”

Cattle can be grown to even larger sizes, but packing houses usually don’t want super-heavy calves for several reasons.  The extra weight stresses equipment, and extra carcass length makes it harder to keep them from dragging in certain parts of the plant.

Meat cuts also can get too large for retailers to sell.  Restaurants have to trim the various cuts down to menu sizes, and retail grocers have to trim them to fit into their case trays.

Last year, some packers took heavy discounts for super-heavy live cattle, effectively limiting the carcass weights passing through their plans.  Nothing like that has happened this year so far, but last year’s discounts were sprung on the industry, so it could happen again if weights keep climbing.




However, beef production was projected to rise this year and next year on the basis of increased slaughter of heavier cattle, according to the latest World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report.  Annual 2016 beef production was estimated at 25.055 billion pounds, up from the October projection of 24.967 billion and the 2015 total of 23.698 billion.

For 2017, beef production was estimated to be even higher at 26.160 billion pounds, and this was up from the October estimate of 25.880 billion pounds.  Clearly, the USDA expects beef carcass weights to continue climbing.

But even while beef production was expected to move higher, prices for cattle were projected lower.  This year’s average predicted price of $119.94 per cwt live was down from last year’s $148.12.  Next year is seen even lower in a range from $102 to $110.




Cash cattle markets Monday were quiet after trading last week at mostly $105 per cwt on a live basis and $158 dressed. Cattle sold the previous week at mostly $105 live and $162 to $164 dressed.

The USDA’s choice cutout Monday was $0.70 per cwt lower at $183.92, while select was up $0.01 at $167.72.  The choice/select spread narrowed to $16.20 from $16.91 with 94 loads of fabricated product sold into the spot market.

The CME Feeder Cattle Index for the seven days ended Friday was $125.38 per cwt, down $0.26.  This compares with Monday’s Nov settlement at $126.02, up $0.30.