Wintry blast cuts both ways in U.S. cattle country

Chicago | Reuters — A major winter storm rolling across the U.S. Plains on Monday disrupted transportation of cattle to beef packing plants in sections of the region, said experts.

However, they said, the rough weather supported cattle and wholesale beef prices struggling against abundant overall meat supplies and heavyweight animals.

The storm, dubbed Goliath, dropped temperatures, along with several inches of rain, snow and ice, on a wide swath of the Plains including the cattle-rich Texas/Oklahoma panhandle.

“It’s been years since a real weather market has hit cattle country. Even though Goliath did hit parts of the Texas panhandle pretty hard, it has underwhelmed in most other areas,” said Cassandra Fish, author of industry blog The Beef.

In anticipation of inclement weather, Tyson Foods operated one of its plants last Saturday so it could be offline on Monday, said company spokesman Worth Sparkman.

He added that Tyson plans to fill customer orders, “but realize some freight with finished product may move a little slower than normal.”

Cargill Foods said weather would not have an impact on operations on Monday.

Monday’s government estimate showed daily cattle slaughter at 90,000 head, or 21,000 fewer than last week. It reflected the day’s weather and rising cattle and beef prices.

The wholesale beef price Monday afternoon surged $3.46/cwt from Thursday, to $201.09, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Last week, market-ready cattle in the U.S. Plains fetched up to $124/cwt, as much as $6 higher than the week before.

“Today’s kill was cut short due to the weather and wholesale beef supplies will be curtailed even more than expected this week as a result,” said Fish.

Jim Robb, director of the Colorado-based Livestock Marketing Information Center, said weather has affected feedlot performance, and some animals are arriving at packing plants having problems with mud tied to the winter storm.

Based on data released by USDA last Thursday, cattle weights began declining prior to the snowstorm. But, “this storm event will continue to probably trim weights closer to a year ago,” said Robb.

For the week ending Dec. 12, USDA data showed actual steer weights on a dressed basis averaged 909 lbs, eight lbs above a year ago. Weights peaked at an record-high 930 lbs for the week ending Oct. 17.

Theopolis Waters reports on livestock markets for Reuters from Chicago.

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