According to the latest Cattle on Feed report by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), the number of animal’s on feed (lots with 1,000 or more head capacity) remained above a year ago. That would be expected given the increasing size of U.S. calf crops in recent years. The onfeed count as of August 1st at 10.6 million head was 4.3% above a year ago, slightly below the yearover-year rise posted as of July 1 (up 4.5%). In terms of head, the latest count was 439,000 head above 2016’s and the largest as of August 1st since 2012.
By far, the most anticipated number in the report was the head placed into feedlots during July, which increased only 2.7% compared to a year ago. Given the drought in the Northern Plains, that increase was smaller than many analysts expected. Usually, the seasonal (within year) pattern is for head placed to increase in July compared to June's. That did not happen this year. The last time a decline happened was in 2007. Year-over-year percentage increases in head placed that occurred in recent months were not sustainable. Six of the 12 states that are individually reported by NASS did show more animals placed than a year ago; those states were: Idaho (up 1,000 head); Minnesota (6,000), Nebraska (35,000), Oklahoma (5,000), South Dakota (8,000) and Washington (9,000). Of course, the increases in Nebraska and South Dakota were driven by drought conditions in the Northern Plains. Minnesota probably received some cattle from drought areas, and there also was active interest buying calves and yearlings by farmer-feeders in that state. Minnesota has among the best corn crop conditions anywhere and large supplies of 2016 corn still on-hand.
Cattle marketed by feedlots during July came in at 4.2% above 2016’s. Marketing’s remained aggressive compared to the last two years. However, the percentage of animals marketed relative to the calculated number of head that had been on-feed for over 90 days was not as dramatic as in the last eight months (back to November 2016) and was in-line with the 5-year average from 2011-15. Fed animal (steer and heifer) dressed weights moving up closer-and-closer to a year ago in recent weeks have been caused in part by relatively mild summer weather which has been associated with good animal performance (average daily gain) in feedlots. More animals are on-feed than a year ago, but that does not imply any cattle feeders have not marketed animals when ready, as happened in 2016.