Cash cattle prices stuck in holding pattern

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

From a country, cash-bid standpoint, cash cattle prices have been stuck in a tight range for about nine weeks.

Wisconsin and surrounding state auction markets this week did see some active bidding on fed cattle, with notably higher prices on Holstein steers.

It seems packers are making a run at a harvest this week between 655,000 and 670,000 head. Carcass weights increased by 5 pounds last week for an average of 862 pounds for beef breed steers. The sector is beginning to see some push back against higher beef prices, especially middle meats. We may have reached the top for wholesale and retail prices.

The reality of drought and dry weather is setting in. The Rugby, North Dakota Livestock Auction will sell over 1,000 beef cow/calf pairs on Monday, June 14 as ranchers there cut back or disperse altogether due to poor pasture conditions and the high cost of hay. 

Similar situations are playing out in other parts of the country as well. The latest weekly beef export total of 16,100 metric tons won’t move the market. Exports did have a good April as US raised beef is finding customers world-wide.

Rising global pork production

China announced this week they will be using their reserve program to alleviate low pork prices in that country. Prices paid to producers have dropped below breakeven. Investment and rapid sector growth has caused prices to drop to half what they were a year ago.  

We have become accustomed to China releasing pork from their reserves to soften high consumer prices. It has been some time since they have purchased domestic pork to put in reserve, however. The latest weekly export sale total of 19,700 metric tons reflects rising global pork production. Cash hog prices were higher this week, averaging $87.55/cwt and $119.72 on a carcass basis Thursday.

Live hog supply is current and domestic demand remains strong.

U.S. beef exports sets new value record

The United States Meat Export Federation released its April report. April exports of U.S. beef set another new value record at $808.3 million, up 35% from a year ago, with export volume reaching 121,050 metric tons (mt) – up 23% year-over-year and the fifth largest on record.

In addition to the overall value record, beef export value per head of fed harvest also reached a new high in April at $367.45, up 1% from a year ago. April exports accounted for 15% of total beef production. Pork exports were the sixth largest on record in April at 269,918 mt, up 2% from a year ago.

Export value was $749.2 million, up 10% and the fourth highest on record. Pork export value per head harvested was $69.22 in April, down 5% from a year ago. April exports accounted for 32% of total pork production.

April exports of U.S. lamb totaled 1,088 mt, up 38% from a year ago, with value up 57% to $1.35 million. Through April, lamb exports were 57% above last year’s pace at 4,356 mt, valued at $5.6 million (up 6%).

Variety meat exports to Mexico accounted for most of this growth, but lamb muscle cut exports also increased to Mexico, Canada, Bermuda and the Dominican Republic.

State markets remain steady

Choice beef breed steers and heifers at Wisconsin and surrounding state auction markets were steady. High-yielding, high-grading cattle brought 105.00 to 120.00/cwt. with groups bringing $120.00 $126.00/cwt. Choice and Prime Holstein steers were higher bringing $95.00 to $110.00/cwt. There were some packages of Holstein steers selling above $110.00/cwt. 

Silage fed, under finished or heavy dairy breed steers brought $70.00 to $98.00/cwt. Dairy x Beef steers were mostly $80.00 to $118.00/cwt. Cows were $3.00 higher at $48.00 to $70.00/cwt. Blemish free cows in fleshier condition were selling to $77.00/cwt. Doubtful health and thin cows were bringing $48.00/cwt and down.

Dairy breed bull calves were lower at $40.00 to $75.00/cwt with heavier, well cared for calves up to $180.00/cwt. Beef and Beef Cross calves brought up to $305.00/cwt. Hot weather caused many feeder cattle auctions to have smaller show-lists. 

New crop fed lambs sold up to $305.00/cwt.