Cattle Harvest A Surprise

The following report was prepared and written by Jeff Swenson, DATCP’s livestock and meat specialist. This report draws information from several sources, including trade publications, radio broadcasts, agricultural news services, individuals involved in the industry as well as USDA reports.

Cash cattle have trended lower each of the past six weeks. The weighted average for steers last week was $167.71/cwt. The biggest surprise last week was the harvest total. The USDA estimates the harvest at 649,000 head making it 14,000 more than the previous week and 27,000 higher than the same week last year. That includes a Saturday schedule of 23,000 head. It is the largest weekly total since March of this year, and only four weeks in 2023 have been equal to or larger than last week’s estimate.

Beef production is running 5% below last year, with harvest 4.5% below a year ago. Fed cattle weights are growing. The 5 Area weekly average was 1,564 pounds for steers last week with carcass weights averaging 971 pounds. There have not been any major weather events in cattle feeding regions so far this winter, so feedlot gains have not been an issue.

Both Live and Feeder Cattle contracts made gains last week adding some optimism to the market. Auction markets reported higher feeder cattle prices last week. The Choice beef cutout value was 33 cents higher last week, averaging $291.76, but lost ground this week. The average retail price of beef in November was $8.04/pound and that was 1.5% lower than October. Whole muscles cuts were lower for the most part while ground beef prices rose 2.4%. The end of the week will bring a USDA Monthly Slaughter and Cattle on Feed report.

Fed cattle prices gained some stability early in the week.

High Choice and Prime beef breed steers and heifers brought $165 to $170/cwt with some to $172 again this week. Choice steers and heifers ranged from $159 to $166/cwt. with mixed grading and those likely to grade Select bringing $150 to $158/cwt.

Holstein steers were mostly steady with some reports of the market being $1 higher. High grading steers brought to $148 to $152 with some lots to $155/cwt. Lower grading steers brought $122 to $146. Silage fed, under finished, or heavy dairy breed steers brought $75 to $122/cwt. Dairy x Beef steers were bringing $126 to $162/cwt with a few higher.

Cows were $1 to $2 higher. A bulk of the cows brought $58 to $81/cwt with some fleshier dairy and beef cows selling into the low to mid $90s/cwt. Doubtful health and thin cows were bringing $57/cwt and down.

Dairy breed bull calves were mostly steady, bringing $100 to $300/cwt with some heavier, well-managed calves selling to $400. Beef and Beef Cross calves were lower, selling up to $650/cwt.