Cattle Trade Remains Quiet

The following meat market update was prepared and written by Jeff Swenson, DATCP livestock and meat specialist. The market update draws information from several sources, including trade publications, radio broadcasts, agricultural news services, individuals involved in the industry as well as USDA NASS and AMS reports. Edited by Mid-West Farm Report.

Cattle

Cash cattle were $1/cwt higher last week. The cattle trade was quiet most of this week, with packers reluctant to increase harvest pace. While feedlot operators have increased asking prices, market conditions are not supportive of higher bids. Beef cutout values have been working lower and both Live and Feeder Cattle futures were sharply lower at mid-week.

Last week’s estimated harvest of 622,000 head was 15,000 less than the previous week and 6,000 less than a year ago. The February World Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report raised the estimate of beef production for 2024. The January Cattle Inventory report implied a smaller decline in cattle outside feedlots than previously expected. With these cattle likely to be placed on feed in the first half of the year, they will likely be harvested in the second half. The report indicated an expected 355-million-pound net decrease in beef exports. Projected fed steer prices were increased by $2/cwt.

December exports of U.S. beef were down 4% year-over-year but was the largest total since August. December beef export value equated to $431.50 per head of fed cattle harvested, up 11% from a year ago and the highest since April. Exports accounted for 14.4% of total December beef production.

Cattle Prices

Fed cattle prices were steady at Wisconsin and surrounding state auction markets. High Choice and Prime beef breed steers and heifers brought $169 to $173/cwt, with some lots reported from $173 to $183/cwt. Choice steers and heifers ranged from $160 to $169/cwt, with mixed grading and those likely to grade Select bringing $152 to $160/cwt. Holstein steers were steady. High grading steers brought to $149 to $155, with some to $159/cwt. Lower grading steers brought $124 to $149. Silage fed, under finished, or heavy dairy breed steers brought $75 to $123/cwt. Dairy x Beef steers were steady, bringing $126 to $167/cwt.

Cows were $2 higher. A bulk of the cows brought $75 to $102/cwt, with some fleshier dairy and beef cows selling to $112/cwt. Doubtful health and thin cows were bringing $75/cwt and down.

Dairy breed bull calves were fully steady to higher, bringing $200 to $400/cwt with some heavier, well-managed calves selling to $500. Beef and Beef Cross calves were higher selling up to $850/cwt.

Hogs

Cash hogs were lower last week with harvest still outpacing last year. Last week’s estimate of 2.622 million was 70,000 fewer hogs than the week before and up 147,000 from a year ago. The WASDE report lowered pork production forecast, citing slower harvest pace expectations. Net export projections were increased by 230 million pounds, and expected barrow and gilt prices were raised by $2/cwt.

Last week’s pork cutout value averaged $86.03, a decline of $2.40 mostly on the weakness of bellies. December pork exports climbed nearly 10% from a year ago and were the largest since May 2021, and the eighth largest on record. Export value increased 11%, also the highest since May 2021 and the third highest on record. December pork export value equated to $70.74 per butcher hog, up 6% year-over-year and the third highest on record, trailing only April and May 2020. December exports accounted for 31.9% of total pork production.

Lamb

Fed lamb prices are being pressured by an earlier than expected seasonal surge in marketings. Last week’s harvest estimate of 39,000 sheep and lambs was 5,000 head higher than the previous week and 4,000 more than the same week last year. The cutout value fell $2.50 and was $468.53 last Friday.

Led by growth in Mexico, the Bahamas, and the Netherlands Antilles, December exports of U.S. lamb totaled 186 metric tons, up 13% year-over-year, while export value climbed 16% to $1.1 million. Market lambs were steady at $170 to $225/cwt