The March Cattle on Feed report brings the feedlot data up to date and back on schedule following the federal government shutdown. February feedlot placements were 102.2 percent of last year. This was significantly larger than expected with year over year increases in placements of cattle weighing 800 to 900 pounds and cattle weighing less than 700 pounds. The February placement total is the largest for the month since 2000. Feedlot marketings in February were 100.5 percent of one year ago, close to pre-report expectations.
The March 1 feedlot inventory was 11.796 million head, 100.7 percent of one year ago and the largest March on-feed inventory since 2008. Over the last 12 months, the average feedlot inventory was 11.529 million head, the largest 12-month moving average since January 2000. The 12-month moving average reached a recent low of 10.375 million head in October 2014 and has increased most months since then. For the last 12 months, feedlot inventories have averaged 11.1 percent higher than the annual average of the October 2014 low.
Although the data are mostly caught up, March weather combined with previous winter conditions continues to create uncertainty about cattle market conditions. The long, cold winter has been characterized by persistent and deep snow in some places and wet, sloppy conditions in others. Now floods are devastating large regions along the Mississippi and Missouri river basins with additional flooding expected. The impacts on crop and livestock markets are likely to be felt for many weeks and months to come.
On the crop side, losses of stored grain, hay and other products will have immediate impacts on the producers affected and perhaps on broader markets. Disruptions to transportation may be the biggest impact with truck, rail and river transportation all impacted by the floods and associated damage and likely to be affected for weeks ahead.
Cattle and beef markets are currently impacted with lower fed cattle weights, lost performance and, no doubt, increased animal morbidity and mortality. The timing of the floods are particularly insidious given that it is calving season for many cow-calf operations. This is likely to result in cattle losses even greater than would be expected during floods. It will take many weeks to fully assess the cattle losses due to winter weather and the floods.
Boxed beef cutout values have increased seasonally through the first quarter; boosted no doubt by smaller than expected beef production. Fed (steer and heifer) slaughter is down 0.2 percent year over year thus far in 2019 combining with smaller carcass weights to reduce beef production by 1.4 percent thus far in 2019. In the latest weekly data, steer carcass weights are down 10 pounds year over year and heifers are down 9 pounds compared to the same week one year ago. Thus far in 2019, steer carcasses have averaged 6.4 pounds lower year over year with heifers down 11.2 pounds for the year to date. Fed cattle prices have ground higher seasonally but may see an extended opportunity for a spring peak given the on-going weather impacts.
Feeder cattle markets have generally followed seasonal patterns with calves moving higher since January. Though calf prices typically peak in early April, delayed grass demand may extend the seasonal strength deeper into April. Heavy feeder cattle (over 700 pounds) have been steady to weaker seasonally through March and should begin moving higher towards a late summer price peak. Recent weather impacts are difficult to isolate in feeder cattle markets but are surely reflected in current markets and will be for some time. Calf losses this spring will not really become apparent until fall and may possibly be big enough to affect the overall 2019 calf crop.