As of January 1, the number of steers on feed in U.S. feedyards was 2 percent higher than a year earlier.

As of March 1, cattle and calves on feed for slaughter market in U.S. feedlots with capacity of 1,000 or more head totaled 10.7 million, down 1 from those on March 1, 2014, according to the March 20 Cattle on Feed report from USDA.

Placements in feedlots during February totaled 1.52 million, 8 percent below 2014, while February marketings of fed cattle totaled 1.52 million, 2 percent below those of a year earlier. February marketings are the lowest for the month since the series began in 1996.

Prior to the March report, feedlot inventories had increased slightly year-over-year for four consecutive months.

Net placements were 1.46 million head. During February, placements of cattle and calves weighing less than 600 pounds were 330,000, 600-699 pounds were 270,000, 700-799 pounds were 388,000, and 800 pounds and greater were 535,000.

Feedlots with capacity for 1,000 head or more account for most of the finished cattle in the United States, and their share continues to grow, according to information in the previous, February report the report. As of January 1, cattle and calves on feed in feedlots with capacity of 1,000 or more head represented 81.6 percent of all cattle and calves on feed in the United States, up from 81.3 on January 1, 2014. During 2014, feedlots with capacity for 1,000 head or more accounted for 87.2 percent of the finished cattle marketed in the United States, up from 86.9 percent during 2013.

As of January 1, the number of steers on feed in U.S. feedyards was 2 percent higher than a year earlier, while the number of heifers on feed was down by 1 percent, an indication that ranchers kept more heifers for breeding during 2014 than they did the previous year.

Lower sale prices and high breakeven levels have pressured feedyard returns in recent weeks. According to our Sterling Profit Tracker, feeding margins dropped another $59 per head during the week ending Morch 14, leaving cattle feeders with losses averaging $212 per head. Fed-cattle prices remained fairly steady last week, with USDA’s 5-Area direct price for live cattle climbing to $161.50 from $161.26 the previous week.

View the full February Cattle on Feed report online from USDA.