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All aspects of the market traded mostly sideways last week. Cash cattle continue to struggle to break above the $114 mark. Slaughter levels are expected to be lower with a plant down for maintenance.

“Live cattle futures are trading mildly lower into Thursday afternoon,” commented ShayLe Stewart, DTN livestock analyst, in her Thursday midday comments. “The support that rallied the market Wednesday afternoon hasn’t disappeared, as bids are developing throughout the countryside slightly higher than Wednesday’s trade and feedlots still feel empowered to push the week’s trade out to fully achieve the higher marks.”

Live cattle contracts ended the week slightly down from the prior week. The April live cattle contract closed Thursday at $118.57 and the June contract at $119.65.

Cash trade had a slow start last week, with a snowstorm rolling through the West. Trade developed Wednesday and some trade was seen Thursday. Live cattle continue to trade around the $113-116 mark, although most trade stays around $114. Dressed steers traded in the $179-182 range.

The week prior, cash cattle trade totaled 92,625 head. Live steers averaged $113.57 and dressed steers averaged $179.79. A total of 195,258 formula cattle averaged $185.16.

The Fed Cattle Exchange listed 2,374 head for their weekly online auction, of which 894 sold. Opening prices ranged from $112-113 and high bids ranged from $113-114.50.

Boxed beef prices have generally been trading downward, but ended the week mixed. The Choice cutout was about $4 higher to $228.61 and the Select cutout was about $2 short of the week prior at $218.11.

Slaughter was slower last week, due to a Nebraska plant down for maintenance. Thursday’s number was projected at only 111,000 head, and the week’s total as of Thursday was estimated at 453,000 head. The same time the week prior recorded 481,000 head. Slaughter for the week ending March 13 is estimated at 647,00 head. USDA released actual slaughter for the first week of March, which totaled 666,089 head.

The Sterling Profit Tracker reported the packer margin at $324.24 per head for the week ending March 12. This is down from the week prior, which was reported at $369.81 per head. A year ago, the packer margin was at $119.77. The feedlot margin was also reported about $10 down from the first week of March, at $15.05 per head. A year ago, the feedlot margin was in the red at -$90.48—likely due to the beginning of COVID-19.

For 2021 estimates so far, the cow-calf margin is reported at $124.50 per head, the feedlot margin at $1.19, and the packer margin at $303.50.

Feeder cattle

Feeder cattle contracts were also a few dollars short of the week prior. The March contract closed at $135.52 and the April contract at $141.42. The CME Feeder Cattle Index was up slightly from the prior Thursday at $134.28. Corn continues to trade sideways and the May contract closed at $5.46.

“As we’ve mentioned time and time again, high input costs and lofty daily cost of gain has really hindered feedlots’ ability to be aggressive in the cattle market,” Stewart said. “If the corn market is going to continue to trade sideways, there’s hope that cash cattle prices will creep higher and feedlots will see greater profitability.”

Iowa: Russell Livestock in Russell sold 4,268 head Monday. Compared to two weeks earlier, steer calves 500-650 lbs. were steady to $3 lower; 650-850 lbs. sold mostly steady. Heifer calves 450-650 lbs. sold $3-6 lower; 650-900 lbs. sold steady to $3 higher. Benchmark steers averaging 777 lbs. sold between $131-144.25.

Kansas: Winter Livestock in Dodge City sold 892 head Wednesday. Compared to the week prior, feeder steers 400-800 lbs. sold steady; eight-weight steers sold steady to $2 higher. Heifer calves 300-600 lbs. sold steady; feeder heifers 600-900 lbs. sold steady to $2 lower. Benchmark steers averaging 773 lbs. sold for $142.

Missouri: Joplin Regional Stockyards in Carthage sold 5,452 head Monday. Feeder steers and heifers traded steady with moderate supply and demand. Benchmark steers averaging 727 lbs. sold between $135-145.

New Mexico: Roswell Livestock Auction in Roswell sold 1,502 head Monday. Compared to the week prior, steer and heifer calves under 500 lbs. sold steady to $3 higher. Calves and feeders over 500 lbs. sold $3-5 lower; heifers 650-700 lbs. sold with instances of $8 lower. Benchmark steers averaging 741 lbs. sold for $129.

Oklahoma: Oklahoma National Stockyards in Oklahoma City offered 8,901 head Monday. Feeder steers sold $2-3 higher, feeder heifers sold mostly steady to $3 higher, with an advance on 600 lbs. Heifer calves sold steady to $3 higher. Benchmark steers weighing 783 lbs. averaged $137.24.

Sheep and lambs

Feedlot inventories as of March 1 totaled 105,589 head, compared to the five-year average of 133,740 head. This is also 31,014 head below the Feb. 1 inventory.

Slaughter as of Thursday was projected at 27,000 head, down about 4,000 head from the week prior. Sheep slaughter the first week of March totaled 39,530 head, compared to 37,472 head the week prior.

As of March 17, the carcass cutout was valued at $408.35.

The week ending March 12, heavy slaughter lambs sold firm to $9 higher; light slaughter lambs sold mostly steady to $20 lower; slaughter ewes sold steady to $15 lower; and feeder lambs were not well tested.

Colorado: Centennial Livestock in Fort Collins sold 236 slaughter lambs Wednesday. Feeder and slaughter lambs had no test compared to the week prior. Choice and Prime lambs averaging 132 lbs. sold between $250-255.

South Dakota: South Dakota Regional Livestock Auction in Worthing sold 820 slaughter sheep/lambs Wednesday. Traditional slaughter weight lambs sold $5-6 higher, and non-traditional lambs sold with sharply lower undertones. Choice and Prime lambs averaging 122 lbs. sold between $170-197.

Texas: Producers Livestock in San Angelo sold 4,879 slaughter lambs Wednesday. Compared to the prior week, slaughter lambs opened steady and as the day progressed weakened to $10 lower. Slaughter ewes sold steady to $5 higher. Choice and Prime 2-3 lambs averaging 127 lbs. sold between $150-180. — Anna Miller, WLJ managing editor

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