Cattle at feedlot

Last week’s USDA Cattle on Feed report indicated heifer numbers in the nation’s feedlots were steady compared Jan. 1 levels.

Those numbers “help estimate the number of heifers being retained for breeding purposes and define the cattle cycle curve,” according to an analysis from the Livestock Market Information Center.

“The U.S. cattle cycle was thought to have turned last year, as the Jan. 1, 2020, beef cattle inventory was lower than the previous year. Heifers as a percent of cattle on feed climbed through 2019, and that proportion has held rather steady in 2020.”

The disruption in processing caused by COVID-19 was also evident in the report, according to the LMIC. Over the third quarter, heifers on feed increased to 38.5%, up from 37.3% in the second quarter.

“Heifers, because of smaller carcass weights, were likely held longer to allow for very heavy steers to have slaughter priority,” says the LMIC in its analysis.

The report also indicated states with large dairy numbers such as California and Minnesota have feedlot heifer numbers of less than 20%. Large cattle feeding states like Kansas and Oklahoma have heifers filling nearly 42% of the states’ feedlot inventory.

Overall, the report indicated a 4% hike in inventory in feedlots with a capacity of 1,000 head or more. The USDA says the inventory of 11.7 million head is the largest Oct. 1 inventory since the series began in 1996.

September feedlot placements were up 6% from a year ago. September marketings were also 6% higher than 2019.

Total red meat inventory was down 13.2% in September, with poultry meat down 3.2%.

“The last time total red meat reached this low for September was 2011 when stocks sank to 944.9 million pounds,” the LMIC says. “The decline in total red meat stocks is due primarily to pork, which is down 22.1% to 466.5 million pounds, while beef is down 1.5% to 462.0 million pounds.”

Pork stocks have tumbled recently due to higher demand in the wake of the global pandemic. The LMIC adds beef stocks are at their lowest since 2014.

Both chicken and turkey numbers were down in September. A large increase in legs in cold storage helped keep the percentage hike lower, according to the LMIC.

Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.