An update on the cattle market was provided by an expert during the San Juan Basin Beef Symposium at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds last week.
Katelyn McCullock, senior agriculture economist with the Livestock Marketing Information Center, gave a PowerPoint presentation to about 30 cattlemen and women.
Cattle prices have leveled from a spike during 2013-2016. In 2014-15, 500-600 pound steer calves were bringing an average of $250 per 100 pounds, and 700-800 pound feeder steers fetched $205 per 100 pounds.
By comparison, in 2018, 500-600 pound steer calves fetched $135 per 100 pounds, and 700-800 pound feeder steers earned $150 per 100 pounds.
“We’re not expecting cattle prices to move much in 2019,” McCullock said. “Consumer demand is good.”
She observed a recent shift in supermarket flyers to more beef ads over pork. But the more affordable poultry continues to be beef’s big competitor. For example, in 2018, 24 billion pounds of beef was sold in the U.S. compared with 40 billion pounds of chicken.
Cattle inventory in 2018 was 95 million head, up from 88 million in 2014. Inventory is expected to remain constant in the next couple of years.
Exports of U.S. beef have been growing in recent years, rising from 2.2 billion pounds in 2014 to 3.3 billion pounds in 2018. The upward trend is expected to continue.
“Beef demand on the global market is stellar,” McCullock said. “We have seen double-digit growth (in U.S. exports) the last three years.” McCullock said.
Japan and South Korea are the biggest buyers of U.S. beef exports, and demand climbed in other countries. Taiwan bought 34 percent more beef muscle cuts in 2018 compared with 2017, and Vietnam boosted its U.S. beef purchases by 18 percent in the same time period.
Drought conditions on the range in Colorado led to more cattle being placed on feedlots in 2018, McCullock said.
For example, in September, there were about 4 million head of cattle on feedlots for more that 120 days, compared with 3.6 million head in September of 2017.
Ranchers in the room were cautiously optimistic about the market.
Jule Meyers, who helps runs 80 head of Black Angus cattle in Arriola, was grateful for the symposium.
“It was helpful to learn about the best vaccines and minerals to use and ways to manage the herd to keep it growing,” she said.
Rancher Kersh Cotonuts, of Towaoc, raises market calves with his family, and said learning the details of the market provided good insight.
“The more you know, the better your operation gets,” he said.