Feb. 24 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. feedlots cut purchases of young cattle by 2.2 percent in January, more than expected, as fewer animals were available for sale because of a shrinking herd.
Feedlots bought 1.847 million head of cattle last month, down from 1.889 million in January 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today in a report. Thirteen analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News projected a 1.4 percent drop, on average. The feedlot herd totaled 11.811 million as of Feb. 1, up 2.1 percent from a year earlier. Analysts expected a 2.6 percent increase.
The U.S. cattle inventory was the smallest since 1952 as of Jan. 1 after ranchers shrank herds as a drought in the south and southwest scorched pastures. Ranchers sold more cattle in June, September and November than in the same months in 2010. In 2011, the total number of calves born fell 1.1 percent to 35.31 million from a year earlier, the lowest since 1950, according to the USDA.
“In the whole population of things, we have fewer calves to go into feedlots, and we placed them early down South,” Tim Petry, a livestock economist at North Dakota State University in Fargo, said in a telephone interview. “The overall population just showed that placements would be down.”
Feedlot operators buy year-old animals that weigh 500 pounds (227 kilograms) to 800 pounds, called feeders. The cattle are fattened on corn for about four to five months until they weigh about 1,200 pounds, when they are sold to meatpackers.
Feedlots sold about 1.816 million animals to meatpackers last month, up 2.4 percent from a year earlier, the USDA said. Analysts expected 0.5 percent decline, on average.
Fattened cattle futures for April delivery fell 0.1 percent to $1.29525 a pound at 12:51 p.m. on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Before today, the price climbed 6.8 percent in 2012.
Feeder-cattle futures for March settlement gained 0.1 percent to $1.578 a pound, and before today were up 5.9 percent this year.
--Editors: Daniel Enoch, Patrick McKiernan.
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