Inventories in U.S. feedlots with 1,000 head or more stood at 99 percent of one year ago on April 1 according to the March Cattle on Feed report from USDA. April marks the 19th consecutive month in which inventories were below year-ago levels, but large numbers of cattle placed into feedlots early this year have brought the total closer to a year ago.

Placements into feedlots during March, at 1.80 million head, were 5 percent below those during March 2013. That follows a month of aggressive placements during February when the placement totals beat those of a year earlier by 15 percent and exceeded most industry predictions. The large February placements followed a 9 percent year-to-year increase during January.

Feedlots placed more cattle during March than they marketed, as was the case in February. March marketings of fed cattle totaled 1.66 million, 4 percent below 2013. Marketings for March were the lowest since the series began in 1996.

Not surprisingly for this time of year, 60 percent of the march placements arrived at feedlots weighing more than 700 pounds, while 40 percent arrived weighing less than 700 pounds.

Steers accounted for 65 percent of the total inventory on April 1 while heifers and heifer calves accounted for 3.71 million head, down 6 percent from 2013. Among other signs, this suggests ranchers are retaining more heifers for breeding purposes than they did last year.

Placements into feedlots likely will slow somewhat for the next few months due to short supplies and more competition from green grass, but we could see on-feed inventories reach year-earlier levels soon.

View the full Cattle on Feed report from USDA.