Spring Cattle High Approaching

The spring high in fed cattle prices likely isn’t in yet, although it could be close – or not, depending on beef demand, and the frost on that window is thick.

Recent stability in wholesale beef prices and a large number of cattle on feed have some wondering whether the spring fed cattle high is in already.  Looking at historical data over the last six years, it’s possible the high could appear this early in the year, but last year’s pattern had the high coming much later.

Data from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has the average date for the spring high in fed cattle prices coming the first week of March.  However, from there, the top trips along in a narrow trading range until the first week in April.

Two weeks ago, the five-market average weighted average price was $129.95 per cwt on a live basis, up from $125.92 the previous week.  But last week is was back down around $126, where it had traded all through February.

Cattle may trade higher again this week since packer buyers already are bidding $126 per cwt on a live basis in the Plains.  Smaller estimated feedlot showlists may have something to do with this.

It may be that this year’s spring high range could be beginning.




But last year’s spring top was out of synch, not occurring until the first week of May at $144.73 per cwt.  Most market analysts attributed this to strong demand fueled by a burgeoning US economy and strong export demand.

The US economy this year is even stronger, and beef exports have been good so far, so will beef and cattle prices continue to rise into a later-than-usual spring peak again.


Current cattle prices are below the 2012-2016 average, so from a historical standpoint they have room to grow.  However, feedlot placements over the last few months indicate there are more cattle on feed.

But that’s not a straightforward view either.  Placements the last few months have been skewed toward the lighter calves, which favors a later finish date and greater supplies of slaughter-ready animals down the road.

If upcoming feedlot marketings will be coming in a few months, then tightening supplies and strong meat demand could push a spring high even higher than it is and delay it into late spring again.




Historically, boxed beef prices tend to rise right about now in the year.  The next peak comes later this month.

But last year, the market took a strong turn upward into May and June.  This was balanced later in the summer when product availability increased and consumers tired of paying higher prices at the grocery store.

It could happen again.




Fed cattle sold last Wednesday on the Livestock Exchange Video Auction at $126 per cwt.

Cash trading last week was at $126 to $127 per cwt on a live basis, down $1.  Dressed-basis trade was steady at $204 to $205.

Packer bids were reported this week at $126 per cwt but were passed.

The USDA’s choice cutout Tuesday was up $0.12 per cwt at $223.35, while select was up $0.36 at $215.20.  The choice/select spread narrowed to $8.15 from $8.39 with 77 loads of fabricated product sold into the spot market.

The CME Feeder Cattle index for the seven days ended Monday, was $145.25 per cwt, down $0.19.  This compares with Tuesday’s Mar settlement of $144.30, down $0.85.