Canadian Livestock Inventories Decline

CANADA - Canada's national cattle herd continued to decline in 2006, plunging by 515,000 head in the wake of renewed live cattle exports to the United States. Last year marked the first full year the border has been open to Canadian cattle shipments since 2002.
calendar icon 16 February 2007
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As of January 1, 2007, cattlemen reported 14.3 million head on their farms, down 3.5% from the previous year and 748,000 below the January record established in 2005, when closed borders forced producers to keep more of their farm stock off the market.

Despite the drop, the 2007 inventory was still 827,000 above the January 1, 2003 level, prior to the border closure, according to the annual January Livestock Survey of 10,000 producers.

The American border was reopened to live cattle under 30 months of age on July 18, 2005. The ban on Canadian cattle and beef took effect after the disclosure of a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) on May 20, 2003.

In general, inventories in the West rose during the early 1990s as farmers increased production in response to expanding export markets. With the closure of the US markets, thousands of cattle were held back on Canadian farms. As the cattle inventories trend lower, the Canadian industry is returning to the way it was before the borders were closed.

Livestock inventories at January 1 
  Cattle Hogs Sheep
  thousands of head
  2006 2007 2006 2007 2006 2007
Canada 14,830 14,315 14,730 14,329 895 886
Atlantic 286 284 329 324 34 34
Quebec 1,405 1,395 4,245 4,085 252 240
Ontario 2,139 2,056 3,654 3,535 225 235
Manitoba 1,490 1,380 2,940 2,960 60 62
Saskatchewan 2,950 2,930 1,375 1,300 105 95
Alberta 5,900 5,680 2,020 1,965 151 155
British Columbia 660 590 167 160 68 65
Note:Figures may not add up to totals because of rounding.

The livestock survey also showed declines in both hog and sheep inventories during the year. Hog producers indicated they had 14.3 million head at January 1, 2007. Farmers reported 886,000 sheep on their farms, down 1.1%.

Exports of live cattle struggle upwards

Exports of live cattle to the United States rose rapidly once the border was reopened in July 2005. However, monthly exports tumbled in the spring of 2006 as drought-stricken US ranchers shipped cattle early, pushing US slaughter levels up and prices down. Reduced US demand for Canadian cattle, coupled to lower prices in this country, partially due to a strong Canadian dollar, discouraged Canadian exports.

In September, cattle exports to the United States rallied. By October 2006, exports were comparable to pre-BSE levels with 114,000 head shipped south, valued at $135 million.

In 2006, total estimated cattle exports amounted to 1,038,500 head. Although this figure is almost twice the previous year, which is reasonable as the border reopened in July 2005, it remains 38.5% below the 1,688,100 exported in 2002 (pre-BSE). There were no exports from June 2003 to June 2005.

Once the border reopened to cattle, beef meat exports declined, partially offsetting the higher cattle exports.

Cattle herd declines in all regions

Cattle numbers fell in all provinces with the West accounting for over three-quarters of the drop. The western herd combined fell by 420,000 head.

Alberta's herd, the largest of any province, declined 3.7%, Saskatchewan's edged down 0.7%, and Manitoba's was off by 7.4%. In British Columbia, the herd dropped by 10.6%. In Central Canada, Quebec's cattle count slipped 0.7%, while Ontario's was 3.9% lower.

The combined picture for Canada and the United States remained stable as of January 1, 2007. Decreases in Canadian cattle inventories have been partially offset by a small increase in the United States, resulting in a combined herd of 111.3 million head.

Slaughter levels have also been a key factor in the cattle business. During 2004 and the first half of 2005, levels hit record highs. They were fuelled by increased slaughter capacity, domestic demand, strong international demand for Canadian beef and lower levels of beef imports.

However, levels have tapered off because of lower exports of beef meat now that the border is open to live cattle and supplies in the United States have increased. At 4.2 million head, slaughter in 2006 was down 7.1% from the previous 12 months.

Prices during the second half of 2006 were 3.3% below the same period in 2005. Although prices improved during the fall of 2005, following several years of low prices, they weakened in the spring of 2006. This was partially due to dry conditions in the United States, which pushed cattle into the feedlots in record numbers, and partially due to a strong Canadian dollar. Interestingly, the spread between Canadian and US feeder cattle prices has narrowed and are now moving in tandem.

Recently, feed grain prices have been on the rise. Not only does this increase the cost of feeding cattle for producers, but it also puts downward pressure on the price that feedlots pay cattle producers for feeder cattle.

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