The September Kansas State University Focus on Feedlots data has been showing a steady decline in average days on feed with both steers and heifers below a year ago for the last four months. In September, the average days on feed for steers was 159 days compared to 175 last year and 165 for the five-year average (2015-19). Similarly, heifers were 169 average days on feed versus 176 a year ago and 160 for the five-year average. Although average days on feed is lower, feedlots show cattle on feed over 120 days in October was up 3.3% from last year and 7.6% above the five-year average.
Since the start of the year, average cost of gain for steers has risen 32.8% ($27) while heifers have increased 37.2% ($32). Average cost of gain in September was $109.29 and $118.34 per cwt, respectively, for steers and heifers, the highest in about eight years. It is also worth noting that the KSU Feedlot average cost of gain data does not include the cost of feeder, yardage, and interest costs. Higher average cost of gain is primarily due to rising feed costs for corn, up 47.7% ($2.25) and ground alfalfa hay, up 31.2% ($43) since the start of the year. The higher cost of gain will also motivate cattle feeders to market cattle quicker.
The latest USDA Cattle on Feed report as of October 1 reported 11.55 million head (down 1.4%) on feed, the second highest level behind October 2020’s record of 11.72 million head. The percentage of heifers on feed accounted for 38.8% of the total compared 37.6% last year. This falls in line with the September KSU Feedlot data which showed a lower percentage of steers on feed (60.3%) and a higher percentage of heifers on feed (39.7%), compared to 64.1% and 35.9% a year ago for steers and heifers, respectively. The higher number of heifers on feed is likely caused by ongoing drought in the western U.S. Persistent drought has limited available feed supplies which is likely causing some producers to divert heifers away from breeding and into feedlots.