The displacement of lightweights in the Lone Star State and surrounding areas was evident in August’s cattle-on-feed report that saw a 43 percent increase in the feedlot placement of cattle weighing under 700 pounds. Although expected, the reality of this news pressured feeder cattle markets late in August and in early September with yearling classes selling 1.00-3.00 lower and calf prices trading $3.00 to $7.00 lower with the full decline in the Southeast with the absence of orders from the drought regions. Grazing prospects remain scarce in the Southern Plains with grass no longer an issue and all hopes centered on winter wheat pasture, which is still a possibility if rain prayers are answered soon. However, the scores of lightweight cattle currently in feedlots and grow yards will mostly stay put as they are no longer in a condition to efficiently utilize forage.

Normally, lightweight cattle in confinement operations are fed a high-roughage growing ration that allows them to build frame and volume before acquiring excess finish (fat) as they reach market weight. But, the extreme shortage of hay is forcing nutritionists to feed a higher concentrated diet that will fatten these calves and cause them to become extremely inefficient at lighter weights. Ultimately, this could result in a significantly reduced average carcass size and a loss of tonnage for packers that rate production in pounds while cattlemen count numbers of head. A boost in demand has been noted for late-fall delivery grass yearlings (which optimize feedlot efficiency) and weaned calves for early winter as the market outlook for next spring is extremely bright at every level of production.

Mid-September saw the fed cattle market reclaim late August losses and the release of the USDA Crop Production and Supply/Demand Report eased winter feedcost fears a bit as an increase in corn production in other areas (namely South America) more than offset the lower U.S. crop estimates. America’s average yield estimate fell to 148.1 bushels per acre with many analysts still thinking harvest may be even more disappointing, especially once combines start running in the Eastern Corn Belt. The corn may be made but it’s still not in the bin and there are plenty of fears left, like an early frost or another round of Midwestern flooding. However, much of the lack of corn production in the Southern Plains ended up being chopped as silage (even much of the irrigated acres) which helped alleviate a portion of the feed shortage and Midwestern feedlots continue to fill their needs at the exit end of the ethanol plants.


Cattlemen are entering the fall of the year with a bright market outlook, but still facing many difficult decisions pertaining to feedcosts. The struggles that cattlemen south of Interstate 70 have experienced will more than likely play into the hands of northern ranchers. Drought has not only caused significant herd reduction, displacement of feeder supplies, and the sell-off of prime breeding stock at fire sale prices; but when the tide finally does turn and the skies open up - replacement quality heifers and young bred cows will be in high demand and firmly in the hands of those presently the most fortunate. end_mark