Cash fed cattle prices rallied $5 to $6 per cwt. higher on a live basis this week, and $7 to $10 higher on a dressed basis. That left packers paying $152 live and $240 dressed in the North, and $150 live in the South. The $152 mark eclipses the previous high of $150.50 set in January.
Boxed beef prices Friday morning averaged $225.33 per cwt. for Choice, and $223.12 for Select. The Choice/Select spread was $2.21.
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Packers swallowed hard but paid up this week to keep orders filled. They’ll look to push prices lower next week in an attempt to recover margins, but that may not be easy since market-ready cattle remain extremely tight. Feedyards should continue to hold the leverage in this market for the next couple of weeks, but analysts warn that historically that changes when the calendar turns to April. Prices will remain strong over the next few weeks, but there many market watchers believe the highs have been recorded.
Yearling feeder cattle sold unevenly steady with noted pressure on those over 850 pounds. Calves were called steady to $5 per cwt. higher.
"Trading was most active on 500-750-pound old-crop stocker cattle and hard lightweight calves from the Southeast where prices were firm to $5 higher," says USDA Market News Reporter Corbitt Wall. "Increased offerings of softer new crop, fall-born calves in the Plains and the Midwest sold mostly steady."
Wall notes that stocker buyers are starting to come out in force. "Backgrounders with spring pastures to graze are making their annual trip to the salebarn or to the phone to call their favorite order buyer. These ‘buy-em’ orders can be as particular and specific as any worked all year, but at the same time stronger than most when the right kind of cattle come up for sale. Longtime weaned and fully vaccinated froze-out short-yearlings that are showing a bit more age than size along with a thin-fleshed and empty weighing condition usually fit the bill."