Sort & Cull

Higher Corn Prices Send Fear Into the Feeder Cattle Market

ShayLe Stewart
By  ShayLe Stewart , DTN Livestock Analyst
As the calendar rolls into the second full week of October, the market amps up for the fall feeder-cattle run and expects the market to be well-tested this week. (DTN file photo by Chris Clayton)

Cow-calf producers are looking at the stark realities of today's feeder cattle market and are caught holding their breath. To no fault of their own, 2020 has been a fickle year to market calves and hitting the market at an advantageous time is tough.

With drought sweeping across the country and corn prices now on the rise, feeders must look long and hard at their break-evens before they can walk confidently into a sale barn and purchase calves. For most spring calving cow-calf producers, this couldn't come at a worse time, as a large portion of producers rely on marketing their calves in October and November.

As we enter the second full week of October, there are more outside factors weighing on the feeder cattle market now than even a month ago. Drought and rising corn prices quickly come to mind and can vastly change the outcome out the market week-over-week. On Aug. 3, corn was at $3.28, and in a matter of two short months corn prices jumped to nearly $4.00 by Oct. 1, then closing at $3.95 on Oct. 9.

Dealing with drought conditions and the cost of carrying calves over into a different market can be so burdensome that producers are left with no other choice but to send their calves to town and let the market be what it is. But adversely, rising corn prices put the skids on buyers as input costs must be cautiously monitored.

Watching how this week's feeder cattle market plays out is going to be tenacious for a lot of cattlemen across the country. If an operation has pen space and readily available feed, carrying a portion of your calves into a sale early in 2021 may not be a bad idea.

Here's a three-year comparison of feeder cattle prices for the first full week in October of 2020, 2019 and 2018 for three different regions across the US.

North Central Region: Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa:

Steer Weight 10/9/2020 10/11/2019 10/12/2018
600 - 700 lbs. $152.56 $151.30 $166.47
700 - 800 lbs. $148.32 $148.02 $162.93
800 - 900 lbs. $144.70 $146.47 $161.52

South Central Region: New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri:

Steer Weight 10/9/2020 10/11/2019 10/12/2018
500 - 600 lbs. $146.60 $148.28 $161.11
600 - 700 lbs. $142.50 $145.85 $156.82
700 - 800 lbs. $141.36 $145.62 $154.90

South East Region: Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina:

Steer Weight 10/9/2020 10/11/2019 10/12/2018
400 - 500 lbs. $146.13 $140.02 $157.71
500 - 600 lbs. $136.87 $131.85 $148.54
600 - 700 lbs. $130.21 $127.77 $141.54

ShayLe Stewart can be reached at


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