Drought out West spurs large runs of beef cows at market

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

Cash cattle started the week steady. There were reports of higher country trades at midweek, especially in the Northern half of the US. Packers likely planned for next week due to some running a shortened schedule last week because of Good Friday. This momentum could carry into next week when packers aim to fill a more typical production schedule.

Estimates for last week showed a harvest of 676,000 head, 37,000 head higher than the previous week and 34,000 head higher than the same week last year. The large runs of beef cows in the West continues as drought conditions there are not improving. The blizzard impacting North Dakota has come at the peak of calving season there and will no doubt effect cattle numbers in the future.

The Choice beef carcass cutout was $272.36 Wednesday compared to $270.47 the previous Friday. The latest weekly export report showed sales of 17,300 metric tons sold to foreign buyers. While export sales were higher than the previous week, it is 18 percent below the four-week average. For the first time in several weeks China was not a buyer. 

Cash hog prices weaken

Cash hogs showed weakness coming into the week. Packer margins are in the red, causing a push back on prices. Last week’s harvest at 2.430 million was 4,000 less than the previous week and 24,000 hogs below the same week last year. Overall 6.2 percent fewer hog have been harvested year-to-date compared to 2021.

Pork demand and prices typically drop the week before Easter and carry through late spring. The pork cutout value has shown strength posted at $108.53 Wednesday compared to $104.37 a week ago.

Pork exports were disappointing during the last reported trading period. Sales of 24,000 metric tons of US raised pork was 42 percent lower than the previous week and 26 percent below the four-week average. Mexico was the largest buyer at 6,100 metric tons followed by Japan (5,400 metric tons) and China (4,000 metric tons.) 

Retail beef, pork and chicken prices up

Retail beef prices increased in March with a composite average of $7.69/pound. That compares to $7.62/pound in February, but below the $7.90/pound high seen in October 2021.

The retail composite pork price was also higher, jumping to $4.84/pound in March compared to $4.77 in February. Chicken prices are also higher at $2.32/pound in March compared to 2.27/pound in February. Retail egg prices in March averaged $2.05/dozen, .05 higher than February. 

Tight supply of market lambs should buoy prices

The live lamb market was lower overall this week although trends varied regionally ranging $10.00 to $30.00/cwt lower. It’s expected that the lamb market would show weakness as Easter supplies have made their way through the supply chain.

Tight supplies of market lambs should buoy prices, however. The USDA gross lamb carcass value $645.18/cwt Wednesday, down slightly from the previous day. Retail features of lamb, especially bone-in and boneless legs, up nearly 70 percent last week. 

State livestock market round up

Choice beef breed steers and heifers at Wisconsin and surrounding state auction markets were mostly steady. High-yielding, high-grading cattle brought $121.00 to 139.00/cwt.  

High Choice and Prime type cattle with an overnight stand at the auction market sold from $139.00 to $143.00/cwt with some packages reported at $145.00/cwt. Choice and Prime Holstein steers were steady this week, at $93.00 to $125.00/cwt. with reports of some high yielding steers selling to $128.00/cwt and a few packages higher.  

Silage fed, under finished or heavy dairy breed steers brought $70.00 to $93.00/cwt. Dairy x Beef steers were mostly $100.00 to $134.00/cwt. Cows were $1.00 to $2.00 lower $55.00 to $78.00/cwt.  

Beef breed cows in fleshier condition sold into the high 80.00s/cwt.  Doubtful health and thin cows were bringing $56.00/cwt and down.

Dairy breed bull calves were steady with last week bringing $65.00 to $150.00/head with heavier, well cared for calves up to $250.00/head  Beef and Beef Cross calves were lower bringing up to $400.00/cwt with some selling above.