USDA report: Hay stocks at lowest level since 1954

Jeff Swenson
Jeff Swenson

The fed cattle market was steady to lower by the end of last week with some cattle feeders motivated to move cattle out of muddy lots.

Wholesale prices have softened, making higher cattle prices in the near future unlikely. The Choice carcass cutout fell $2.15 last week, ending Friday at $276.62. Lower cutouts and Live Cattle futures haven’t deterred some cattle feeders from holding out for higher bids.

Carcass weights have been slowly decreasing, a sign the fed cattle supply is current and cattle are not backed up in feedlots. Last week’s estimated harvest was 661,000 head, making it 98,000 head larger than the previous week and 43,000 head more than the same week last year.

The retail price of beef in December averaged $7.45/lb. making it 9 cents higher than November, and 21 cents lower than December 2021. Snow in Colorado and Nebraska, as well as the Midwest, will impact cattle movement and hinder feedlot performance.

The recent December 1 hay stocks report from USDA showed total stocks of 71.9 million tons, 16.4% below the previous 10-year average and the lowest December 1 stocks on record since 1954. A Cattle on Feed Report will be released on Friday, January 20. The anticipated Cattle Inventory report will be released on January 31.

Hog harvest hits high note

Last week’s estimated hog harvest of 2.688 million was the largest since January 2021. The total was 39,200 head higher than the previous week and 32,100 higher than the same week a year ago.

Holiday schedules and winter weather made harvest smaller the previous three weeks and packers aggressively sought out hogs. The additional volume moved wholesale pork prices lower as the carcass cutout value finished last week at $81.64, a drop of $3.50 from the previous week. Prices continued under pressure this week. Cash hogs were $3.50/cwt lower last week.

The USDA expects pork production to be higher in all but the second quarter of 2023 when compared to last year. Profitability at the farm level will need to improve to make the increase in production a reality. The composite retail pork price in December was $4.83/lb., 12 cents lower than November.

Cash lamb prices weak

Cash lamb prices were called weak to $20/cwt lower last week. The lower bids didn’t keep packers from putting together a larger harvest. The estimate of 34,000 sheep and lambs was 8,000 more than the previous week and 1,000 more than the same week last year.

Market lamb weights continue to decrease. The average live weight last week was 124 lbs., 2 lbs. lighter than the previous week and 7 lbs. less than a year ago. Carcass weights have come down from 66 lbs. this time last year to 63 lbs. In January, all lamb carcasses graded were Choice or Prime, a statistic worth watching if lamb weights continue to decrease.

The lamb carcass cutout finished last week at $536.23, a decrease of 90 cents from the previous week.

State livestock market roundup

Fed cattle prices nationally were mixed with very few country trades developing by mid-week, and bids were steady money at best. Prices at Wisconsin and surrounding state auction markets were mixed but mostly steady with tops lower than seen the previous week.

High-yielding, high-grading cattle brought $133 to $152/cwt. Groups of high Choice and Prime lots sold from $153 to $162/cwt. The Holstein steer market was steady to $2 lower this week ranging from $113 to $137/cwt with a few packages selling to $143. Silage fed, under finished or heavy dairy breed steers brought $77 to $113/cwt. Dairy x Beef steers were bringing $107 to $145/cwt with packages to $151/cwt.

Cows were $1 to $4 lower. A bulk of the cows brought $50 to $72/cwt with some selling into the low $80s. Doubtful health and thin cows were bringing $50/cwt and down. Dairy breed bull calves were steady, bringing $70 to $150/cwt with heavier, well-cared-for calves higher this week, selling up to $220/cwt.

Beef and Beef Cross calves were steady, selling to $350/cwt. Market lambs brought $120 to $137/cwt. There were reports of small groups selling to $170/cwt. with some light lambs selling higher.