By Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist
The Jan. 1, 2018 inventory of cattle in feedlots was 11.49 million head, 108.3% of year earlier levels. This is an increase of 884,000 head compared to Jan. 1, 2017 and is the largest January on-feed total since 2012. For the twelve months of 2017, feedlot placements totaled 23.5 million head, up 1.91 million head (an 8.8% increase) from 2016. Total 2017 marketings increased 1.03 million head year over year, up 4.9%.
December placements were up 0.8% year over year, slightly more than expected. This follows large year over year placement increases in September, October and November.
December marketings were equal to expectations, down 1.4% from the previous year. December had one less business day compared to a year earlier, thus daily average marketings were still larger year over year as it was every month in 2017. In the last five months of 2017, feedlot placements exceeded marketings by 506,000 head. These additional cattle will be marketed in the first 4-6 months of 2018.
December feedlot placements consisted of an unusual pattern of weights with increased year over year placements of feeders under 600 lb. and over 1000 lb. Placements of typical weights from 600-900 lb.were down 4.7% year over year. Beginning in 2017, monthly cattle on feed reports now include more detail on placements of feeder cattle over 800 pounds; with data now showing 800-899, 900-999 and over 1,000-lb.placement categories.
Over all 12 months of 2017, feedlot placements over 1,000 lb.represented 4.3% of total placements; 900-999 lb.were 8.9%; and 800-899 lb.were 21.8% of total placements. The 700-799 lb. weight group was the largest category at 24.9%. Placements of feeders from 600-699 lb. was 18.5% of the total placements while those under 600 lb. were 21.5% of the total.
Placements under 600 lb. likely includes many dairy calves and seasonally some beef calves. Total placements of feeders under 600 lb. were up 11.4% in 2017 over 2016; including a 30% year over year jump in under 600 pound placements in November that was attributed to lack of wheat pasture in the Southern Plains.
The latest cattle on feed report also included the breakdown of steers and heifers on feed. Steers on feed, Jan. 1 were 7.34 million head, up 4.5% year over year. Heifers on feed were 4.15 million head, up 15.9% over one year ago.
The number of steers on feed was the largest since 2008 while the number of heifers on feed was the largest since 2012.
The heifer feedlot inventory swelled sharply in the last half of 2017 and indicates slowing heifer retention. However, it should be noted that the ratio of steer to heifer slaughter in 2017 was still well above long-term average levels meaning that growing heifer feedlot inventories relative to steers is really just getting back to more typical levels of heifer feeding after sharp reductions due to drought and herd expansion since 2012.