April cattle closed sharply higher on the session yesterday for the second day in a row, as prices have quickly moved from the lower end to the higher end of the recent 7-week trading range. Cash cattle traded at $113.00 in the southern plains, which was steady against Wednesday's highs but $2.00 higher than last week. Stronger cash markets this week and firmer beef prices were thought to have supported the market. Cattle futures were higher overnight, but many traders were waiting for key economic news on US employment to be released before the opening. An active slaughter pace during the past few weeks along with a higher cash trade were seen as easing some trader's concerns of lower demand due to higher energy prices. Boxed beef cutout values were up 7 cents at mid-session yesterday and closed unchanged at $172.88. This was up from $170.36 the prior week and is at the highest level since February 1st. Weekly U.S. beef export sales came in at 13,900 metric tonnes, compared with the prior 4-week average of 23,100 tonnes. Cumulative sales for 2011 have reached 202,900 metric tonnes, up 44.6% from last year's pace. The estimated cattle slaughter came in at 126,000 head yesterday. This brings the total for the week so far to 511,000 head, up from 502,000 head last week at this time and up from 490,000 head a year ago. Average dressed steer weights for the week ending February 19th came in at 834 pounds, down from 835 pounds the previous week but still up from 831 pounds a year ago. Beef production for the same week came in at 503.6 million pounds, up 5.38% over year ago.