Grasslands Allow Extended Grazing

US range and pasture conditions remain well above last year and the previous five-year average, allowing cattle producers to keep cattle on grass longer than in many previous years.

Chris Reinhardt, extension feedlot specialist at Kansas State University, said some grass types “mature by the calendar” and the grazing season cannot be extended.

However, other grasses are very lush and have extended the pasture season, Reinhardt said.  In some cases, the nutritional value of the grass has declined, making it necessary for cattle producers to supplement the grass with distillers grains, but they’re still out there.

A graph of range and pasture conditions plots the combined percentage of US pastures that are rated poor or very poor by the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

It is normal for the average condition of pastures to decline beginning in June.  Wheat pasture goes away completely until fall, and many cool-season grasses virtually go dormant.

Pasture conditions began to improve last year as rain returned to major grassland areas, breaking years of extended drought.  The trend continues this year.  As last year’s pasture ratings become part of the previous five-year average next year, the seasonal tendency toward poor or very poor pastures will flatten a bit.




NASS does not track pasture conditions through the winter because there are few places in the US where grass remains green and nutritional through those months.  This is one reason the grass-fed cattle industry in the US is small – there isn’t enough year-round grass.

Feeder cattle supplies at the auction barns remain tight, the result of years of declining herd numbers partly the fault of extended drought and years of poor pasture conditions.  The USDA’s Cattle Inventory report shows increased herd density, so many cattle feeders are awaiting the arrival of these calves at the auction barns.

So far, the increases in feeder calves being offered for sale to feedlots has been small, and many expect a larger increase in late summer and fall as calves get large enough for the feedlot and pastures wither seasonally.

Such expectations have kept a lid on feeder cattle futures.  The nearby Aug contract settled Tuesday at $214.07 per cwt, but the Sep contract ended at $210.42, and subsequent contract months are lower still.

That shows the market would just as soon have the feeder cattle now rather than later and that prices going forward are expected to decline either through increased supplies or reduced demand.




Cash cattle markets Tuesday remained quiet, with few bids or offers to report.  No sales of any substance were reported, nor any bids.  Offers were at $152 to $153.  In dressed markets no bids were heard while asking prices were around $$244 or more.

Cattle last week traded at mostly $150 per cwt with some up to $152.  On a dressed basis, cattle traded at $236 to $238.

The USDA’s beef cutout values Tuesday were higher again, following last week’s lead.  The USDA reported its choice cutout at $240.93 per cwt, up $2.41.  Select was reported at $234.80, up $2.88.  Volume was moderate with 94 loads of fabricated cuts being sold into the spot market.

The CME Feeder Cattle Index for the seven days ended Monday was $216.68, up $0.02, compared with Tuesday’s Aug settlement of $214.07, down $0.17.