Fed Cattle Price Trends Right On Schedule

Slaughter steer and heifer prices in the Southern Plains began trading this week at $123 per cwt down $3 to $4 from last week, and the timing is right on schedule.

Data from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service that was compiled by the Livestock Marketing Information Center showed that a seasonal tipping point in slaughter steer prices in the Southern Plains tends to occur this week.  What follows is an uneven slide into annual lows around the last week of September.

Often, as the 2013-2017 average shows, the annual peak in fed cattle prices also occurs around this time of year.  The average high for this five-year period was $141.47 per cwt.

Last year, however, the annual high took place much earlier, around the third week of February at $129.95 per cwt.  The spring high that took place this week last year was $125.68 per cwt.

Last year’s annual low for Southern Plains slaughter steers was early, coming the last week of June at $106.22 per cwt.




But lower seasonally lower fed steer prices don’t seem to affect prices for replacement feeder steers.  In fact, there is an old adage that says cattle feeders won’t do any serious pulling away from reinvesting in feeder cattle until they have lost money on three straight sets, so any connection between the two sets of prices tends to have a very long lag time.

In the current markets, one wouldn’t expect to see an immediate reaction.  The Sterling Marketing Beef Profit Tracker has feedlots last week earning a positive margin of $184.13 a head on cattle sold to the packer for slaughter.  At these returns, feedlots will fill their pens readily.

The 2013-2017 weekly average price for 700- to 800-pound feeder steers in the Southern Plains tends to rise at this time of year and peak around late July or early August.  Last year, the peak came in the first week of October at $162.25 per cwt.

There is a strong seasonal tendency for those feeder steer prices to decline in the fall as pastures wither prior to winter, and steers become more available to the market.  And since seasons come and go on a regular basis, there’s no reason to think this trend will vanish.




Something unusual took place last week in the Southern Plains slaughter cow market, prices surged unseasonally.  The USDA’s AMS reported an average price last week of $54.12 per cwt, up from $42.50 the week before.

It’s too early to tell if this is more than just a one-week anomaly or if it’s the start of a trend.  If it is a new trend, it certainly will grab some attention since the 2013-2017 average shows a fairly even price line into early July where it rises to the annual high in August.




Cash cattle trading was reported Tuesday at $123 per cwt on a live basis, down $3 to $4 from last week.  No dressed-basis trade was reported but took place last week at $205 per cwt, down $2 to $3.

The USDA choice cutout Tuesday was down $1.30 per cwt at $231.84, while select was up $0.49 at $218.21.  The choice/select spread narrowed to $13.63 from $15.42 with 90 loads of fabricated product sold into the spot market.

There were no tenders Tuesday for deliveries against the Apr futures contract.

The CME Feeder Cattle index for the seven days ended Friday, was $144.66 per cwt, down $0.53.  This compares with Tuesday’s May contract settlement of $141.60, down $1.80.