With cattle numbers still growing, cattle feeders have continued to move larger supplies of cattle through feedlots in a very timely manner. The December USDA Cattle on Feed report showed December 1 feedlot inventories at 11.739 million head, 101.9 percent of one year ago. This is the largest December feedlot inventory since 2011. The average monthly feedlot inventory for the past 12 months is at the highest level since February 2007.
November feedlot placements were lower year over year for the third straight month. November placements were 1.996 million head, down 4.9 percent compared to last year. It should be noted that November placements are compared to large placements last year, when placements were up 13.9 percent from the prior year. This is a similar situation to September and October and resulted in placements the last three months down an average of 5.2 percent year over year. Lack of wheat pasture in fall of 2017 resulted in large placements of lightweight cattle in the fall. By contrast, ample moisture in 2018 has resulted in ample wheat pasture and sizable numbers of cattle grazing this winter and lower year over year placements. The availability of wheat pasture, albeit delayed by wet conditions this fall, also likely contributed in November to the largest monthly other disappearance since October 2014. Other disappearance usually consists mostly of lightweight cattle previously placed in the feedlot that are returned to pasture.
November feedlot marketings were 1.869 million head, 101.4 percent of last year. This contributed to a three month total marketings for September, October and November up 0.9 percent year over year. Average monthly marketings the past twelve months are at the highest level since October of 2011. While feedlots are relatively full at the end of 2018, aggressive marketings have kept feedlots current and have helped hold cattle weights in check this year.
There has been considerable concern about cattle weights in 2018. After declining in 2017, carcass weights were expected to increase in 2018. Relatively favorable feedlot cost of gain always leads to concern that feedlots will feed cattle to heavier weights. However, the lesson of 2017 and 2018 has been a recognition that, while low cost of gain is an incentive keep feedlots full, it doesn’t imply overfeeding cattle as long as abundant supplies of feeder cattle encourage faster turnover and additional placements as cattle are marketed. Steer carcass weights reached a weekly seasonal peak of 904 pounds in November, equal to the peak last year. In the past eight weeks, steer carcass weights have average over three pounds below the same period last year. Heifer carcass weights reached a weekly peak of 838 pounds this fall, eight pounds lower than the seasonal peak in December, 2017. Heifer carcass weights have averaged two pounds below year ago levels for the past eight weeks.
Lower carcass weights at the end of the year will hold annual steer and heifer carcass weight increases to minimal levels. For the entire year, steers carcass weights are expected to average 3.0-3.5 pounds above last year while heifer carcass weights are projected to average 6.5-7.0 pounds over year ago levels.