In cattle feeding, effective risk management is crucial for maintaining profitability and long-term success. Traditionally, many cattle feeders have relied heavily on fundamental analysis for their marketing strategies. This would include monitoring factors like supply and demand, feed costs, weather patterns and cattle weights to make informed decisions. While fundamentals are undoubtedly important, they represent only one piece of the puzzle. Relying solely on these factors can be a risky strategy. To navigate the complexities of the cattle market, it is essential to also consider other critical factors such as seasonal patterns, money flow, price action, trends and volatility.

Frantz luke
Director of Business Development / Kapco Futures

Understanding seasonal and analogous years

Seasonal patterns play a significant role in the cattle market. These patterns are based on historical data that shows how prices typically behave during specific times of the year. For instance, cattle prices often rise in the spring as demand for beef increases during grilling season and decline in the fall when supply peaks due to the influx of feeder cattle.

Analogous years, which involve comparing the current year’s conditions to similar years in the past, can also provide valuable insights. By analyzing past years with similar weather patterns, economic conditions or market trends, cattle feeders can potentially increase the accuracy of their predictions of future price movements. These patterns and comparisons can offer a broader perspective that fundamentals alone may not capture. Of course, just because a pattern has occurred in the past does not mean it will occur in the future.

The role of managed money and money flow

Managed money, which refers to the actions of institutional investors such as hedge funds and commodity trading advisers, significantly impacts the cattle market. These investors often have substantial capital at their disposal and can influence prices through their buying and selling activities. Large commercial operations, participants in grains and cattle on the physical market, are also considered part of this money flow. These commercial entities can move the market significantly due to their sizable volume of transactions. Understanding the flow of this money, also known as price action, is crucial for anticipating market movements.

When managed money flows into the cattle market, it can drive prices up, even if fundamental indicators suggest otherwise. Conversely, when these investors and large commercial players pull their money out, prices can drop unexpectedly. Monitoring the behavior of managed money provides insights into market sentiment and potential price trends that fundamental analysis may not reveal.


Trends and volatility

Market trends and volatility are additional factors that cattle feeders must consider. A trend represents the overall direction in which the market is moving, whether upward, downward or sideways. Identifying and following trends can help feeders make strategic decisions about when to buy or sell cattle.

Volatility, on the other hand, measures the degree of price fluctuations over a given period. High volatility indicates significant price swings, which can present both opportunities and risks. Understanding volatility helps feeders gauge the level of uncertainty in the market and adjust their risk management strategies accordingly. Volatility often makes all the difference in how strategies are built out.

The impact of algorithmic trading

Another factor that is increasingly influencing the cattle market is algorithmic trading. This involves the use of computer algorithms to execute trades at high speeds based on predefined targets or goals. These algorithms can analyze large amounts of data in real time, making decisions that can move the market in seconds. The presence of algorithmic trading means market prices can be affected by automated data-driven decisions rather than just human judgment. Cattle feeders need to be aware of the potential impact of algorithmic trading on market volatility and price trends. Integrating an understanding of how these algorithms operate and influence the market can enhance risk management strategies, ensuring that feeders are better prepared for rapid market shifts.

Integrating fundamentals with other factors

While fundamentals are essential, they have limitations. For instance, even if the supply of cattle is low and demand is high (a fundamentally bullish scenario), prices may not rise if managed money is exiting the market or if seasonal trends predict a decline. Similarly, during times of high volatility, prices can deviate significantly from fundamental values due to speculative trading.

To manage risk effectively, cattle feeders should integrate fundamental analysis with an understanding of seasonal patterns, managed money flows, trends and volatility. This comprehensive approach provides a more comprehensive view of the market, allowing feeders to make more informed and strategic decisions.

Practical steps for cattle feeders

  1. Monitor seasonal patterns: Keep track of historical price movements and understand how seasonal factors typically influence the market. Use this information to anticipate price changes and adjust buying or selling strategies accordingly. It is important to note that just because something has happened “seasonally” in the past does not mean it will happen this year.
  2. Analyze analogous years: Compare current market conditions with past years that had similar characteristics. This can provide insights into potential future trends and help in making more accurate predictions.
  3. Track money flow: Pay attention to the activities of institutional investors and large commercial operations. Tools like the Commitments of Traders (COT) report can provide valuable information about the positions of managed money in the market.
  4. Identify trends and volatility: Use technical analysis tools to identify market trends and measure volatility. Trend-following strategies can help in timing market entries and exits, while understanding volatility can aid in risk management.
  5. Consider algorithmic trading: Stay informed about the impact of algorithmic trading on the market. Understanding how these algorithms influence price movements and volatility can help in anticipating rapid market changes.
  6. Combine multiple approaches: Develop a risk management strategy that incorporates fundamentals, seasonal patterns, money flow, trends, volatility and the impact of algorithmic trading. This well-rounded approach can improve decision-making and improve overall potential profitability.


In conclusion, fundamentals are a key factor of market analysis, but they are not sufficient on their own for a fully encompassing risk management plan in the cattle market. Seasonal patterns, money flow, trends, volatility and algorithmic trading all play significant roles in influencing prices. By compiling these factors into one risk management plan, cattle feeders can better understand the market and make better-informed decisions. This comprehensive approach is important for navigating the complexities of the cattle market and giving you a better shot at long-term success in the feedyard industry.

Futures and options carry a high degree of risk. Purchasers and sellers of options should familiarize themselves with the type of option (i.e., put or call) they are contemplating trading and the associated risks. You should calculate the extent to which the value of the options must increase for your position to become profitable, taking into account the premium and all transaction costs. Utilizing strategies using combinations of positions, such as spread and straddle positions, may be as risky as taking a simple long or short futures position.

Terms to know

Analogous years – A market analysis approach that involves comparing the current year’s conditions to years in the past with similar conditions

Managed money – The collective market actions of investors such as hedge funds and commodity traders

Algorithmic trading – The use of computer algorithms to trigger and execute market trades at high speeds based on predefined targets or goals