The first week in February marked another down week for the U.S. cattle market, as effects continue to be felt from the discovery this past December of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease in a Washington state dairy cow.

The week's average fed steer price was $75.28, more than $5 below the previous week's price and more than $10 below the price from two weeks prior, according to John D. Anderson, agricultural economist with Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss.

Volume, he says, also appears to have dropped and is considerably below year-ago levels. The Feb. 6, National Slaughter Cattle Review indicated week-to-date negotiated sales of 171,630 head, compared to 175,022 in the previous week and 180,031 head at the same time last year.

Slaughter volume also was down, says Anderson. The Feb. 6 Estimated Daily Livestock Slaughter under Federal Inspection report estimated weekly slaughter at 601,000 head, down only 1,000 head compared to the previous week but 50,000 head below last year's level.

“Calf prices were also a little weaker for the second week in a row in most locations,” he says. “However, calf prices did hold up much better than fed cattle prices. At Oklahoma City, feeder steers and heifers were called steady to $1 lower. Lighter calves were off a little more than that — steady to $3 lower. Volume at Oklahoma City was quite small, however, due to the threat of a winter storm.”

Around the country, calf prices were a mixed bag, negatively influenced by local weather conditions and positively influenced by the beginnings of demand for grass cattle, says Anderson.

At Georgia auctions during the first week in February, feeders were off $1 to $3 while stockers were off $1 to $5. In Lexington, Ky., feeders were down $1 to $3, but stockers were steady to $2 higher, reports Anderson.

In West Plains, Mo., feeder steers and heifers were generally steady to $2 lower. Just as in Oklahoma City, light calves were off by a bit more, with 350 to 400-pound steers at $3 to $7 lower. Heavier stockers, weighing in between 450 and 550 pounds, were steady to $2 higher, says the economist.

At Mississippi auctions during the first week in February, prices on feeders and stockers were reported steady to $2 lower. Mississippi feeder steer prices were reported by USDA Agricultural Marketing Service as follows: 300-350 pounds, $119-$129; 350-400 pounds, $114-$120; 400-450 pounds, $110-$120; 450-500 pounds, $105-$111; 500-600 pounds, $91-$101; 600-700 pounds, $85-$95.

“Cattle futures were, to say the least, volatile during the same week. After drifting down early in the week, most contracts fell by the limit of $1.50 on Wednesday. On Thursday, all contracts were back up sharply, though only March and April recovered the full limit lost the previous day. The general consensus seems to be that Wednesday's sell-off was primarily a reaction to a report by the international panel reviewing USDA's BSE investigation.”

The report, says Anderson, included several specific recommendations related to the control and eradication of BSE. Key recommendations included the following:

  • The exclusion from human food and animal feed supplies of specified risk materials (i.e., tissues such as the brain and spinal cord that “represent the greatest BSE exposure risk to humans and animals”) from all animals over 12 months of age (current guidelines only deal with specified risk material from animals over 30 months of age).

  • Extending the feed ban so than no mammalian or avian meat and bone meal is included in ruminant feed (currently, meat and bone meal from non-ruminant species can be included in ruminant feed).

  • BSE testing of all slaughter animals over 30 months of age from high-risk populations and increasing surveillance among cattle of all ages.

  • The banning of mechanical tissue processing methods.

Overall the report seemed to be complimentary of USDA's BSE investigation and control efforts up to now.


e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com