Tight Cattle on Feed Ahead of this Year’s Fall Run

– James Mitchell, Livestock Marketing Specialist, University of Arkansas

The September Cattle on Feed Report was released on Friday, and estimates were within the range of pre-report estimates, albeit on the lower end of those analyst expectations. The main takeaway is the same as it has been for most of 2023: cattle on feed supplies will continue to be tight. As we shift gears for the fall run of calves, some of the feedlot placement data is interesting to look at in more detail.

Placements into feedlots with 1,000 or more head capacity totaled 2.00 million head and was 5.1 percent lower than in August 2022. Breaking out feedlot placements by weight category, the largest decline was for cattle weighing more than 800 pounds, which totaled 823 thousand head and 8.0 below August 2022. Placements of heavy feeder cattle are highest in April as cattle come off winter pasture and in August-September as yearlings come off summer grass. The significant decline in August placements for cattle weighing more than 800 pounds may suggest that there may have been limited grazing opportunities this summer. The drought map this summer supports this claim.

Feedlot placements were down 2.3 percent, 4.7 percent, and 2.2 percent for cattle weighing less than 600 pounds, 600-699 pounds, and 700-799 pounds, respectively. Seasonally, feedlot placements of lightweight calves increase through the fall and peak in October. This is also when total feedlot placements are at their highest. Monitoring placements this fall will also be critical for gauging beef production next year. The most recent WASDE report from September forecasts 2024 beef production at 25.165 billion pounds, which would be a 6.6 percent decline relative to the most recent estimates for 2023 production.