Strong stocker demand pushed calf prices counter-seasonally higher before Thanksgiving. For the week ending November 17, the Oklahoma combined auction price for 475 pound, medium/large, number 1 steers was $183.34/cwt. That is the highest price for that category of steers since May of 2016 and is $28.86/cwt higher than the same week last year. Across weight groups, feeder cattle prices are generally 17 to 24 percent higher than one year ago. Steer calves are bringing $140-$200/head more than last year and heifer calves are bringing $100-$150/head more. The strength in feeder cattle prices has been quite remarkable given increased supplies. Auction volumes have been 25 percent higher than last year for the last four weeks.
Prices for bigger feeder cattle dropped last week under the pressure of declining Feeder futures. However, heavy feeder prices have been a bit stronger relative to calves all fall and thus remain very good. Steer prices are realigning to a more typical rollback with heavy weights declining relative to calf prices. Heifers, however, continue to have a very flat price structure with heifers from 475 to 725 pounds all priced within $3.00/cwt. last week.
The November Cattle on Feed report was a continuation of recent months. Placements were larger than expected, up 10.2 percent year over year. Marketings were up 5.6 percent leading to a November 1 on-feed total of 11.332 million head, up 6.25 percent over last year. Feedlot inventory growth is slightly higher in the north with year over year Nebraska and Iowa on-feed totals up 8.6 and 15.0 percent while Kansas and Texas are up 2.2 and 6.0 percent.
Year to date steer and heifer slaughter is up 5.5 percent year over year with steer slaughter up 2.5 percent and heifer slaughter up 12.0 percent. However, in the last eight weeks, steer and heifer slaughter is up just 4.4 percent year over year. So far this year cow slaughter is up 7.1 percent led by a 10.4 percent year over year increase in beef cow slaughter and a 4.2 percent increase in dairy cow slaughter. Fed carcass weights continue to inch toward a seasonal peak but remain well below year ago levels. Latest steer carcass weights were 902 pounds compared to 913 pounds the same week last year. Heifer carcass weights are currently 833 pounds, nine pounds less than the 842 pound level at this time last year.
Beef production is up 4.1 percent for the year to date but the year over year increase is declining. In the last eight weeks, beef production is up only 1.8 percent compared to the same period last year. Boxed beef prices enjoyed a nice rally through early November but have since pulled back with most holiday meat sales already completed. October retail beef prices were steady with year ago levels for both Choice and All-Fresh beef. All in all, cattle and beef markets appear set to finish 2017 on a strong note.