USDA-NASS said the number of cattle on feed in large feedlots at the start of January was down 5.4% compared to January 2012. The pre-release trade forecast was for the on-feed number to be down 6.0%. This is the seventeenth consecutive month that the number of cattle on feed has been below the year-ago level. The January on-feed number is the lowest for any January since 1997.

December placements of cattle into large feed yards (over 1,000 head capacity) were 1.0% higher than in December 2012. The 1.681 million head placed was the most since December 2010. The average of pre-release trade forecasts was for December placements to be down 1.9%.

USDA said marketings of fed cattle from large feed yards during December totaled 1.736 million head, down 0.5% compared to December 2012, and the lowest for any December since 2008. The trade predicted December marketings would be up 2.2%. December steer and heifer slaughter was up 3.8% compared to a year ago. There was one more marketing day in December 2013 than a year earlier.

The calculated average weight of cattle placed on feed during December was up 0.3% from December 2012. The number of cattle placed on feed weighing less than 600 pounds was down 2.0% from the previous July. Placements of feeders weighing 600 to 700 pounds were up 1.2%; placements weighing 700 to 800 pounds were up 3.2%, and placements weighing more than 800 pounds were up 2.7% compared to a year earlier.

The number of steers on feed on January 1 was down 3.8% compared to 12 months earlier. The number of heifers on feed was down 8.3%. Heifers were 35.2% of the cattle on feed on January 1. That is the lowest heifer percentage for the start of any year since 2006 and is a strong indication that cattlemen are planning a herd expansion.

The average price of fresh beef in grocery stores during December was $5.036 per pound. That was up 2.8 cents from the record set the month before and 27.2 cents higher than in December 2012. The average retail price for choice beef in December was $5.36 per pound, down 4.9 cents from the November record.

Cattle on Feed, 1000+ Capacity Feedlots, U.S.
2012 2013 2014 Percent of
Year Ago
1,000 head
On Feed December 1 11,348 10,725 94.5%
Placed during December 1,664 1,681 101.0%
Marketed during December 1,745 1,736 99.5%
Other Disappearance 74 77 104.1%
On Feed January 1 11,860 11,193 10,593 94.6%

Source: Ron Plain, University of Missouri