The cattle market continued to rack up solid gains in April. Choice slaughter cattle in the Amarillo area moved up another $2 and ended the month close to $74/cwt. Feeder cattle and calves didn't fare as well as prices moved lower in mid-month and then increased in the final week. Heavy weight feeders were again scarce and price quotations difficult to find in the Texas feedlot area.
Cattle and calves on feed for the slaughter market in the U.S. located in feedlots with capacities of 1,000 head or more totaled 11.19 million head on April 1. This is 8% above last year but the smallest gain in three months. Kansas and Texas recorded the largest percentage increases. Nebraska and Colorado also recorded healthy gains.
Feedlot cattle marketings in March reached 2.05 million head, only 3% larger than last year. This helped the cattle market in March. Major gains came in Kansas and Nebraska, each with 11% more. Texas increased just under 1%.
The really good news in this latest report was a 1% decrease in feedlot placements in March. At 2.03 million head, it's the lowest level in three years and is encouraging for cattle feeders later in the year. Only Nebraska and Colorado recorded significant increases in placements over a year ago.
Cattle and calf placements by weight groups were down for every size class except the heaviest. The 800 lbs.-or-more category was up 22%. All others were 7-13% lower.
Fed cattle prices are probably at their highest yearly levels right now or close to them. The increased feedlot marketings, resulting from last winter's large placements, will weigh heavily on this summer's market. Feedlot movement in March was light and suggests substantial fed cattle marketings are just down the road.
Feeder cattle and calves still have a good outlook for most of summer and into fall. There may be price weakness if feds slacken, but not much. More important to the feeder market will be the range and grazing situation.
Texas hasn't recovered from last year's drought and is embarking on another one. That could make things tough this summer. Strong heifer prices combined with high hay costs might cause ranchers to reevaluate their plans to expand breeding herds.