USDA Cattle on Feed Report Preview

May 1 Cattle Numbers Require Careful Review Due to 2020's COVID-Skewed Stats

ShayLe Stewart
By  ShayLe Stewart , DTN Livestock Analyst
USDA will release its May 1 Cattle on Feed report on Friday. (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo by Jim Patrico)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Before diving into the specifics of what may be presented in Friday's Cattle on Feed report, it's vital that we remember that year-ago comparisons are useless as last year was skewed from COVID-19 disruptions. It's more important that we compared the data presented in 2021 to that of 2019 as well as the five-year average.

Going by the average survey estimate of 103.4%, analysts expect USDA to report 11.581 million head of cattle on feed as of May 1, 2021, down from 11.897 million head on April 1 and close to the May 1, 2018, total of 11.558 million head, if true.

Even though the placement projection is expected to be greater than that of a year ago, it wouldn't be surprising to see the number actually lower than what was placed in 2019 as the calf crop in 2020 was smaller due to the onset of a liquidating cowherd cycle. This will most likely be a trend that's noted for quite some time as drought continues to pressure cow-calf operations into selling and the feeder cattle market continues to be in disarray amid high corn prices and worries about the feedlot sector as they look at packers' lackadaisical processing speeds.

Regarding the number of cattle marketed, it will be especially interesting to see where the actual data lands in comparison to that of 2019 as packers have been running well below full capacity despite soaring boxed beef prices.

USDA will release its May 1 Cattle on Feed report at 2 p.m. CST on Friday.

USDA Actual Average Estimate Range
On Feed May 1 103.7% 103.0-105.7%
Placed in April 120.8% 117.7-139.7%
Marketed in April 133.6% 131.9-136.4%

ShayLe Stewart can be reached at shayle.stewart@dtn.com

ShayLe Stewart