USDA reports second largest inventory of cattle on feed since 1996

Jeff Swenson

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.

Jeff Swenson

It’s difficult to compare anything in the livestock sector to this time a year ago. Last week’s cattle harvest was 97,000 head over the same period last year with hog harvest running 220,000 higher.  Red meat production year-to-date has surpassed January through April of last year with demand still strong for beef, pork and poultry.

The USDA released a Cold Storage Report on Monday, May 25 with April 30th red meat supplies 3 percent below the previous month and 17 percent lower than April 30, 2020. Beef in storage was 6 percent below March and 5 percent below last year. 

Pork supplies were 1 percent higher than the previous month, but still 26 percent below 2020. Total frozen poultry supplies on April 30, 2021 were down slightly from the previous month and down 20 percent from a year ago. Total stocks of chicken were down 2 percent from the previous month and down 22 percent from last year. Total pounds of turkey in freezers were up 3 percent from last month but down 13 percent from April 30, 2020.

On feed numbers up on cattle report

The latest USDA Cattle on Feed report was released on Friday, May 21. The On Feed number of 11.7 million head is 4.7 percent higher than May 1, 2020 and this is second largest May inventory since the report began in 1996. 

While placements were 27.2 percent higher than April 2020, it was 5.7 percent below 2019, which is a better comparison. Total cattle marketed during April was 33 percent higher than the same month last year. It should be noted there are 5 percent more heifers in feed yards than in 2019, and cow harvest is up 11 percent, likely fueled by drought and poor pasture conditions in parts of the country.

Widespread precipitation in the West last week likely wasn’t enough to ease worries of pasture shortages and high hay prices. Hot, dry weather is in the forecast for many of those areas next week.

Hog market may continue upward

The hog market is still hinting it may not be done working higher. Cash hogs were lower coming into this week, but it’s unclear if the weakness will last. Strong demand both domestically and internationally with a supply tighter than we have seen in some time is fueling higher retail prices. Last week’s estimated harvest of 2.393 was down just slightly from the week prior. 

Hogs are coming to market lighter and that will also impact pork supply.  The pork cutout value ended Tuesday at $124.52, moving in the opposite direction of cash hogs. The price of pork has increased at the retail level, but with beef prices also increasing there is no motivation or need anywhere in the supply chain to back off on price.

Planting season winds down

Ninety percent of Wisconsin corn is in the ground tying national progress. It’s estimated 58 percent of corn in the state has emerged. Wisconsin soybean planting is 83 percent completed with the national average at 75 percent. 

Grain futures were under pressure and traded lower at midweek due to improving growing conditions in the Corn Belt. Wisconsin Hay conditions were rated 69 percent good to excellent and 65 percent of pasture is rated good to excellent.

State auction markets

Choice beef breed steers and heifers at Wisconsin and surrounding state auction markets were steady to $2.00/cwt higher. High-yielding, high-grading cattle brought 102.00 to 119.00/cwt. with some cattle selling up to $125.00/cwt.

Choice and Prime Holstein steers were steady bringing $92.00 to $103.00/cwt. There were some packages of Holstein steers selling up to $107.00/cwt. Silage fed, under finished or heavy dairy breed steers brought $70.00 to $92.00/cwt. Dairy x Beef steers were mostly $88.00 to $116.00/cwt.

Cows were steady to $1.00 higher at $45.00 to $64.00/cwt. Blemish free cows in fleshier condition were selling to $73.00/cwt. Doubtful health and thin cows were bringing $45.00/cwt and down. Dairy breed bull calves were lower $50.00 to $100.00/cwt with heavier, well cared for calves up to $180.00/cwt.  Beef and Beef Cross calves brought up to $325.00/cwt.