Taking a Look at Fall Cattle and Beef Markets

Unusual weather in Oklahoma this fall has created many challenges for cattle and crop producers but there has been one positive outcome: brilliant fall colors. The exceptional red and yellow leaves this fall are the most impressive I have seen in a number of years. The fall foliage also reminds us that 2018 is winding to a close and we are beginning to see markets take on their final look for the year.

Boxed beef cutout prices have increased from a recent low near $202/cwt. in mid-October to a high last week over $218/cwt. The beef rally has been led by middle meats, with the strongest increases in rib and loin primals as well as briskets but chuck and round primals have also increased in the last six weeks.

Fed cattle prices dropped to an early fall low of about $107/cwt in early September and traded in a narrow range of $110-$111/cwt. for six weeks in September and October before breaking higher the last week of October. Fed prices are currently trading at $113-$114/cwt. on tighter current feedlot supplies.

Total cattle slaughter for the past six weeks has averaged 1.9 percent higher year over year compared to the same period last year. Cattle slaughter across all cattle classes is beginning to fall into line with expectations. Steer slaughter, which has averaged below year ago levels all year, has been up by 0.5 percent year over year for the past six weeks. Heifer slaughter the past six weeks has averaged 3.0 percent over last year, bringing the year to date total down to a 7.2 percent year to date increase year over year. Beef cow slaughter likewise has moderated, with the last six weeks averaging 4.9 percent higher year over year and bringing the year to date total down to 10.6 percent year over year increase.

Cattle carcass weights have averaged 2.5 pounds higher so far this year but are averaging only 0.5 pounds higher year over year the past six weeks. Steer carcass weights recently peaked at 903 pounds the first week of October and have dropped back to 894 in the most recent weekly data. This may be the seasonal peak in carcass weeks but the peak often happens in November so a couple more weeks are needed to be sure the seasonal peak is in. Steer carcass weights have averaged 4.3 pounds heavier so far this year but are averaging only 1.7 pounds higher year over year in the past six weeks. Heifer carcass weights also peaked in early October at 835 pounds before pulling back to 824 pounds in the last weekly data. This may be a seasonal peak as well in carcass weights for heifers. Heifer carcass weights have averaged 8.0 pounds heavier this year and are up 6.7 pounds year over year in the last six weeks.

Beef production is up 2.7 percent for the year to date in 2018 as a result of the slaughter and carcass weight increases discussed above. In the past six weeks, beef production has been 1.6 percent higher year over year. Despite continued beef supply pressure, boxed beef prices in the past six weeks have averaged 4.4 percent higher than the same period last year. Strong beef demand has been a key in 2018 and will be critical as higher beef production carries over into 2019.

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