Beef Numbers Show Market Returning to Normal

CANADA - Statistics Canada’s semi-annual survey of cattle herd estimates shows Saskatchewan following a national trend of declining herd sizes in the past year.
calendar icon 11 September 2006
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Canada’s total inventory of cattle and calves was estimated at 16.25 million head as of July 1, 2006, a decrease of five per cent from the survey report of July 1, 2005.In Saskatchewan, the survey reported the number of cattle and calves at 3.45 million head, which is a decline of five per cent from the herd size one year ago.

Sandy Russell, Beef Economist at Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food’s Livestock Development Branch, commented, “We had expected a decline because of the fact that the U.S. border had reopened to live animal exports.  When you combine that with a strong cash market, we are not surprised to see a smaller herd this year.”

During the period that the U.S. border was closed to Canadian exports, the Saskatchewan beef herd grew close to 18 per cent, or over 200,000 animals, according to Russell.  “There were a lot of older animals retained within the breeding herd that needed to be dealt with, and it’s good to get them through the system,” she said.

In Saskatchewan, the number of beef cows stands at 1.508 million head, down two per cent from last year, according to the Statistics Canada estimate.

Beef herd replacement heifers were down 16 per cent, heifers for slaughter decreased by 26 per cent, steer inventories were 12 per cent lower, and the number of calves was pegged at 1.388 million, down three per cent from 2005.

In comparison with Saskatchewan’s five-per-cent reduction in herd size, Alberta was down six per cent and Manitoba decreased by two per cent.

Russell said that, prior to the closure of the border, the Saskatchewan herd was increasing at two to five per cent per year, which indicated a trend of more producers switching to cattle from grain.

She expects the cattle herd in Saskatchewan will continue to grow over the longer term, because “herds were expanding prior to 2003, and development is again very much on the agenda of Saskatchewan cattle producers.”

She added, “We are feeding more cattle in the province than we have in the past.  We need to continue to feed and process more and more animals in Saskatchewan.”

According to Russell, the ban on exports to the U.S. meant that producers were carrying many more older animals.  “We hadn’t significantly culled the herd, and that needs to be dealt with,” she said.  “Overall, we will have a stronger, more sustainable industry as a result of open export markets.”

Looking ahead at the cattle cycle, Russell estimates that a drought this year in the American Midwest will postpone expansion in that region, which should mean stability in prices for live animals.

“Of course, the priority for the industry remains getting the border reopened to older animals, which would mean a complete return to normal trade,” she said.

Russell pointed out that the emphasis for the Saskatchewan industry is to continue gaining new markets and exporting more beef in boxes rather than on the hoof, and that prospects look good for both of those trends.

TheCattleSite news desk

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