How To Read A Cattle Market Report: The Must-Know Basics

Reading cattle prices and market reports isn't difficult. Cattle are listed in hundredweight which means for every 100 pounds, you'll receive or pay a set market rate. 

You should always be aware of cattle pricing in your regional markets, even though you might be selling your beef cattle privately. Having these prices at your fingertips means you know you are charging the correct fee for your animals.

Alternatively, asking for a little more than local auctions are selling for might be a good idea. But, whatever you decide to charge for your stock, you must have a firm grasp of the prevailing prices in market reports.

Knowing Your Market Report

Knowing the difference between a market report and a cattle market outlook is crucial.

Market outlooks can only ever be estimations of how future cattle pricing will change. So, although it is helpful to know, you should concentrate on actual animal prices if you wish to get an accurate representation of your local market.

Different areas of the US have different ways of producing a cattle market report. In Ohio, for example, there is a combination of dairy and beef cattle with numerous sheep, goats, and hogs.

Consequently, auction reports in that area have a broad spectrum of animal types but only modest differences within those types.

Auction lists in regions that have combinations of dairy and beef cattle catalog the breeds in a very different manner to the areas of predominantly beef cattle.

In a report from a region where farmers mainly raise beef cattle, you will see that the parameters adapt to match that region’s characteristics and requirements. The information will separate the breeds into distinct sections to provide a clearer picture of the cattle attending the market.

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National and local livestock reports contain a large amount of very detailed information. However, it is relatively easy to follow once you have researched and understood the basics. It is essential to identify the type of cattle that interests you and then take the time and trouble to comprehend the different classifications for heifers, steers, bulls, and cows.

You should be able to recognize different weight classifications as reports often divide steer calves, for example, into five other weight groups.

Calculating The Value of a Calf

Take special care to research the average price per animal in your chosen weight class. If 300 to 500lb steers average US$95 to US$118 per cwt or hundredweight (for every 100lb the steer weighs), you will receive up to US$118, and a 350lb (3.5 cwt) calf would bring US$413 (3.5 x US$118).

With some easy math, you can calculate the value of a 485lb calf based on a weighted average per hundredweight.

Add the lowest and highest values per hundredweight we have seen above: US$95 + US$118) and halve to get the average per hundredweight (US$107). Move the decimal two places to the left, and you have US$1.07 per pound. So, US$1.07 x 485 (the weight of the calf in pounds) would equal US$518.95. This price would be the expected value at the current market rate.

Be Sure To Know The Kind of Cattle You Want

The first thing you will probably look for is the section that is most relevant to you. Compilers structure market reports so that animals with like characteristics are in the same category. This layout should help you to find what interests you easily and quickly.

As an example, you might be looking for feeder cattle and steers. Feeder steers are calves that have been neutered and have finished weaning. Ranchers buy feeder steers to fatten up and then butchers when they have reached the desired weight. At this point, they are known as “finished.”

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Auctions in “beef country” will have more choices, with carcass weights starting at 200lb and going up to 800lb. Experienced ranchers can work out how quickly a steer in their region would gain weight, decide how long it would be before they sold it, and then use those calculations to determine on a purchase or not.

Farmers who own large tracts of grazing land will only want the cattle to consume this excess grass on these pastures. They will then sell most of them in the fall, holding back a few for their own consumption.

Getting The Weight of Your Purchase Right

You will probably be asking what the weight of the steer I buy should be when I finally go to the auction. There is a simple way to calculate this.

First, you should be looking to make your purchase in late May before the three primary summer months. This will give you approximately 180 days to fatten the cattle, ready for selling or butchering.

The dead weight we will use in our example is 1,000lbs.

Grass-fed feeder cattle will usually gain 1.5lb of weight a day.

So if you multiply the 180 days by 1.5lb of weight gain per day, you will have a total of 270lb gained over the three summer months.

If you take the finishing weight of 1,000lb and subtract the 270lb, the target weight of the animal you should be bidding on will be around 730lb.

There are many ways to do this, e.g., feed the cattle grain for a speedier weight gain, slaughter the bullock early while it is not quite so large, or keep them longer.

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A valuable guide for ranchers new to auction buying is available by clicking on this link.

The Intricacies of Steer Pricing

As a rule, the cost stated in an auction report would be the overall price paid as breeding stock sells by the head.

A cow and calf combination at an auction mainly for beef cattle would be an excellent example.

Say the amount paid for this combination was US$800 in total. That amount is what the bidder offered and the amount that will appear on the report.

Compare this case to a steer sold depending on its weight.

Say the amount paid for this combination was US$800 in total. That sum would have been the winning bid…

We’ll look at the 500 to 600lb feedlot weight range of a live cattle auction. The steers in the market report have a price range of US$75 to US$175 per hundredweight.

The auction house will weigh cattle immediately before each sale, making a detailed record available to buyers.

For example, if an animal that interests you weighs 550 pounds, it might cost between US$412.50 and US$875 if we use that pricing as an example.

You reach these figures by dividing the weight of the steer by a hundredweight and then multiplying by the highest prices and base prices, so:

(550 ÷ 100) x US$75 = US$412.50
(550 ÷ 100) x US$175 = US$875

If you try to read market reports, they will become more apparent. You will also begin to identify how price changes follow specific patterns and the seasons.

Looking at reports from recent weeks and this time last year will give you a good indication of what to encounter. Most cattle prices are cyclical, i.e., in a typical year, prices will fluctuate in a predictable pattern. You will see higher prices at certain times and lower prices at certain times.

Keeping up to date with current cattle market report pricing will make you more knowledgeable about price trends and give you a huge advantage when buying and selling cattle.


Adam has always had a fascination with farmyard animals, no doubt sparked by the farm in Devon he used to visit every summer when he was a young pup. He became close friends with the farmer’s children, two of which were about his age, and they allowed him to help out with cattle milking, herding and tagging. Being a fondly magical experience, he recently jumped at the opportunity to help the team at Cow Care Taker.

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