Growing U.S. cattle herd, beef demand offer hope to struggling feedlots
* Herd clawing back from 63-year low
* Early spring fires up home barbecue grills
* Full feedlot recovery may take years
By Theopolis Waters
CHICAGO, March 22 (Reuters) - Cheaper feed and more cattle should help stem losses for U.S. feedlots this year, livestock analysts say, keeping beef supplies flowing just as demand starts to pick up.
That should translate into lower prices for hamburgers and steaks for consumers, as it could help keep feedlots in operation and avoid costly bottlenecks in beef production.
Feedlots, which fatten up cattle ahead of slaughter, have suffered through 15 straight months of red ink. Soaring prices for the 600-900 pound calves they take in and sliding bids from packers, whose beef faced tough price competition from other meats, squeezed margins.
But now there are faint signs of a turnaround.
In February, feedlots on average reduced losses to $218 per head - a sharp improvement from the $500 losses in December, as estimated by Colorado-based Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC). Continued...