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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

New data listings break down heavy cattle placements in feedlots

STILLWATER, Okla. – The February USDA Cattle on Feed report show January feedlot placements were 111.3 percent of last year while marketings were 110.2 percent of one year ago, the numbers being pretty much what economic analysts expected.

“Something new beginning with this report that is catching the interest of many analysts and beef producers are the additional details on heavyweight feedlot placements,” said Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension livestock marketing specialist.

The new feature breaks down the “over 800 pounds” listing into categories for 800-to-900-pound animals, 900-to-1,000-pound animals and animals weighing more than 1,000 pounds for the national totals. For individually reporting states, the numbers detail 800-to900-pound animals and animals weighing more than 900 pounds. 

“This additional weight breakdown is important and needed as heavy feedlot placements have increased significantly in recent years,” Peel said.

Prior to 2012, the annual average percent of heavy placements each month was fairly constant at about 28 percent. Starting in 2012, the percent of heavy placements has increased steadily to the 2016 average of 36.8 percent.

“Not knowing how weights were distributed above the 800-pound mark has made it difficult to anticipate the market timing of heavy placements,” Peel said.

The new data listings indicate:
● The 800-to-900-pound placements made up 71.8 percent of the “over 800-pound placements” in January compared to 74.1 percent one year ago.
● The 900-to-1,000-pound placements made up 20.3 percent of “over 800-pound placements” compared to 19 percent in January 2016.
● Placements of cattle weighing more than 1,000 pounds were 7.9 percent of the heavy placements, compared to 6.9 percent this time last year.
● In total, placements of animals weighing more than 900 pounds represented 8.1 percent of placements in January, compared to 8.4 percent last year.

“Over time the value of this data will grow as more history is accumulated and averages and seasonal patterns emerge,” Peel said. “Additional heavyweight feedlot placements are one of several factors that have contributed to rapid increases in slaughter and carcass weights in recent years.”

Data on more than 500,000 head of cattle from a large Southern Plains feedlot indicates heavy placements have different implications for final feedlot weight of cattle compared to lighter-weight placements.

“The feedlot data shows that for steers placed between 600 pounds to 850 pounds, each additional pound of placement weight increases sale weight by an average of 0.52 pound,” Peel said. “However, for animals weighing more than 850 pounds, each additional pound of placement weight is matched by an additional pound of sale weight.”

A similar but even more exaggerated pattern is true for heifers, with placements between 550 pounds to 800 pounds producing an average of 0.48 pound of sale weight for each additional pound of placement weight. For heifers placed that weight more than 800 pounds, each additional pound of placement weight results in 1.38 pounds of additional sale weight.

Peel said the increase in heavyweight feedlot placements in recent years was no doubt heavily motivated by high feedlot cost of gain over much of the period. However, even with sharply lower feed costs in 2017, there are several reasons why placement weights may not decline much in the coming months.

“Feedlots generally prefer to feed older, heavier cattle, which is more possible with growing cattle numbers,” Peel said.

Continued changes in cattle genetics, feeding management and feeding technology allow cattle to be fed efficiently to heavier weights. Placement of heavier animals in feedlots also may be contributing to the increase in the Choice grading percent in recent years.

“Still, it is expected slaughter and carcass weights likely will increase more slowly or plateau in coming years, in part because of demand limitations for ever larger carcasses,” Peel said.

The February 1 on-feed total was 10.8 million head, 100.7 percent of last year, according to the USDA data.

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