Cattle on feed drops 6 percent
Four largest cattle states down a total of 580,000 head
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
The number of cattle on feed continues to decline and was down 6 percent on Jan. 1 compared with a year ago.
The number of cattle and calves for slaughter in feedlots with a capacity of 1,000 head or more came in at 11.2 million, compared with 11.9 million on Jan. 1, 2012, according to the Jan. 25 report from USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The four largest cattle states were down a total of 580,000 head, with Nebraska leading the decline with 220,000 fewer head.
Steers and steer calves in feedlots with capacity of 1,000 head or more were down 3 percent, and heifer and heifer calves were down 9 percent from the previous year.
The lower number of cattle in feedlots is in line with the ongoing trend of the decline in the availability of feeder cattle, and it will continue until there's a rebuilding of inventory, said John Nalivka, owner of Sterling Marketing, a consulting firm for the red meat industry.
A lot of cattle went to feedlots early and light because grass was not available and producers had no forage, he said.
In addition, cattle from Mexico went into Texas feedlots earlier in the year due to extreme drought south of the border, he said.
There will be fewer cattle from Mexico again this year as that country's producers liquidated much of their herd last year, he said.
While December placements were down only 1 percent from December 2011, they were down for the seventh consecutive month, with the declines coming from Colorado, California, Idaho, Washington and South Dakota.
That suggests the squeeze on the feedlot sector is more pronounced around the fringes where feedlots are often geographically disadvantaged with respect to feeder cattle and feed supplies, said Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist.
The situation for small feedlots is particularly important, he said. In the 15 years prior to 2012, the January monthly on-feed total in large feedlots represented an average of 81.4 percent of the annual January inventory in feedlots of all sizes. In 2012, that percentage jumped to 84 percent, suggesting more fallout among small feeders.
Declines in December placements from the year-ago level were 13 percent in Colorado, 18 percent in California, 28 percent in Washington, and 12 percent in South Dakota.
But large percentage changes in most of those states don't translate into large cattle numbers, Nalivka said. Declines in those five states totaled 63,000. Increases in other states offset the declines, resulting in only a 1 percent decline in total December placements.
Some of the declines were caused by earlier placements due to fires that had cattle coming off damaged ranges ahead of normal. In addition, placements were compared with pretty big placement numbers in all but South Dakota in December 2011, he said.
Across the spectrum, producers were placing cattle earlier and by the time September rolled around, there were few cattle left, he said.
"I think some feedlots quit altogether or are feeding less cattle," he said.