The last full week of April saw reports surface of the fourth confirmed case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in a central California dairy cow.

However, mainstream media calmly reported the situation and stressed the fact that the infected cow went straight to a rendering facility and never got near our nation’s food supply.

Cash and futures markets recovered their initial knee-jerk losses very quickly and producers were not overly affected unless they had the unfortunate timing of marketing on that particular Tuesday afternoon.

In fact, the aftermath of the situation actually turned out to be encouraging: that media outlets could report the first case since early 2006 with cool heads and equitable facts.

Feeder cattle marketing has seasonally slowed down as most cattle are currently turned-out on summer pasture. Buyers and sellers can now scale back operations until the mid-to-late summer yearlings begin to make their appearance.


But before these highly demanded “green” feeders hit sale barns across the major grazing regions of the U.S., a much larger movement of calves and yearlings will be priced in the country through private treaty and/or video and Internet-contracted sales for fall.

High-volume ranchers and backgrounders are hoping for a rally in the CME cattle futures before these summer sales events occur to lay the groundwork for another highly profitable year.

More data continue to reflect just how tight feeder cattle numbers have become, and cattle feeders don’t want to find themselves short if record prices return.

Through 2012, nationwide auction receipts are running 9.1 percent lighter than last year’s drought selloff, but still 8.8 percent less than the five-year average. Common sense says that eventually cattle-on-feed inventories will be below 100 percent, after a seemingly endless string (every month since June 2010) of year-on-year increases.

The direct slaughter cattle trade has been very inconsistent this spring, as short-bought packers struggled to keep dressed beef cut-out values within shouting distance of what they paid for the whole carcass.

At one point cut-outs lagged behind the hanging market by almost $20, which caused slaughter rates to be slashed to the smallest non-holiday weekly harvest since February of 2005.

Carcass weights are running heavier than normal but the slower chain speeds propped up wholesale beef prices, even though sales volume has been very unimpressive.

Exports remain larger than last year but the gains have slowed considerably and the warmer weather has yet to coax Americans outside to their backyard grills.

Memorial Day weekend consumption of beef products (and whether it’s hamburgers or ribeyes) could be the catalyst for the performance of the cattle market for the rest of the year.

The list of reasons why the cattle market should post new all-time record highs is about as long as the one that predicts a minor wreck. Fundamental supply-side factors remain in the cattleman’s favor, but demand has proven to struggle at current price levels.

Like it or not, the cattle market largely hinges on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the amount of speculating long interest to offset all the downside hedging pressure the industry puts on itself. Some shrinking-margin relief could be found in a bumper corn crop.

As of May 1, 53 percent of the huge crop had been planted, with all 18 of the major corn-growing states well ahead of the five-year average schedule.  end_mark