Pasture prospects bolster calf prices

Calf demand continues to grow as grazing turnout nears.


Wes Ishmael, BEEF Magazine

Apr 06, 2019


Looming, promising pasture underpinned calf and feeder cattle prices this week. Nationwide, steers and heifers traded steady to $3 per cwt higher, according to the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).


“There was good to very good demand for steers and heifers weighing less than 700 pounds and suitable for grazing,” according to AMS analysts. “As the calendar turns to April, grass is expected to pop very soon if warmer temperatures can move into the Plains and the upper Midwest.


“Flint Hills calves haven't been turned out yet, but ranchers are chomping at the bit. Slow grass growth is due to the colder-than-normal temperatures and waterlogged soil conditions throughout the midsection of the country.”


Most of the nation is drought-free following the extraordinarily wet winter, according to the most recent U.S.Drought Monitor. There are pockets of abnormally dry conditions—some moderate drought—in the Northwest and Southwest, along the Gulf Coast and into the Southeast.


Winter wheat condition is running well ahead of last year with 56% rated Good (45%) or Excellent (11%) for the week ending March 31, according to the season’s first Crop Progress report from USDA. That’s 24% more than the same time a year ago. 9% was rated in Poor (7%) or Very Poor (2%) condition, compared to 30% the previous year.


The latest forecast from the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center calls for above-normal precipitation across most of the nation from May through July.


Feeder Cattle futures closed an average of 81 cents higher week to week on Friday. The final gain in a seesaw trading week came with Thursday’s bounce on the coattails of Lean Hog futures, which increased an average of $9.70 higher from Monday through Friday (near May to Dec).


The surge in Lean Hogs and increased volatility of late continues to revolve around speculation concerning China’s apparent need to import more meat to fill the void left by African Swine Fever. At the same time, trader optimism that a U.S.-China trade pact is near bolstered equity and commodity markets.


Fed cattle prices soften


Negotiated cash fed cattle prices were steady to a touch softer in the Northern Plains this week at $126 per cwt in Nebraska and at $127-$128 in the western Corn Belt. Dressed trade was reported at $204-$206, compared to $206 the previous week. Prices in the Southern Plains were $1-$2 lower at $124...


Cull prices should improve ...


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