The latest USDA Cattle on Feed report issued Feb. 22 was delayed a month because of the federal government shutdown. The report showed December placements at 98 percent of one year earlier and marketings at 99 percent of last year leading to a Jan. 1 on-feed total of 11.69 million head, 101.8 percent of the prior year. It should be remembered that the Jan. 1, 2018, feedlot inventory was large, up 8.3 percent year over year as dry conditions pushed more feeder cattle into feedlots at that time. The modest increase in the Jan. 1, 2019, feedlot inventory is therefore still a rather large number and is the highest inventory for the month since 2012.

The December 2018 feedlot placements were lower than pre-report expectations issued by analysts in January. However, the report is not likely to have much bullish impact as the information is well out of date at this point. The February Cattle on Feed report is due to be issued on March 8 and the March report on schedule on March 22.

The latest report does, however, provide some additional information. The report included the quarterly estimates of steer and heifer inventories in feedlots on Jan. 1. Steers on feed were estimated at 7.28 million head, down 0.7 percent from one year ago. This is the first year over year decrease in quarterly steer feedlot inventories since April 2017. Heifer feedlot inventory was 4.41 million head, up 6.2 percent from last year. This is the 12th consecutive quarter of year over year increases in heifers on feed since January, 2016.

The long-awaited annual cattle report will be released Feb. 28. This report will provide an update on total cattle inventories and a breakdown of cattle inventories by class. The report also provides cattle inventory estimates by state. The report will include an estimate of Jan. 1 feedlot inventory for all feedlots. This contrasts with the Jan. 1 cattle on feed inventory in the monthly report which is for feedlots of one thousand head or larger capacity. On average, the total feedlot inventory in the Cattle report is about 123 percent of the monthly cattle on feed estimate for Jan. 1. Stated another way, the monthly estimate of feedlot inventory for large feedlots (one thousand head and larger) represents about 82 percent of total cattle on feed inventory (including smaller feedlots).

Derrell S. Peel is Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist.