Canadian cattle herd to continue contracting in 2024 - GAIN

Beef imports expected to grow over 2023
calendar icon 17 October 2023
clock icon 2 minute read

The Canadian cattle herd is forecast to sustain the long-term trend of contraction in 2024, according to a recent US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) report.

Drought impacts will see cow and heifer slaughter increase proportionally to herd size in 2023, limiting any growth potential. As a result of reductions in herd size, beef production will be lowered, as will beef exports. Improved feed conditions in 2022/23 following the 2021 drought did not encourage any meaningful expansion or significant heifer retention amongst cow-calf producers. 

The 2023 beef cow herd was the smallest in recent years, and drought conditions in certain regions on the southern prairies led to increased cow slaughter and a lack of signals for heifer retention. 

The forecast for the 2024 beef cow herd is for further contraction with a consequential reduction in the 2024 calf herd.

Fed cattle numbers will be propped up by importing US feeder cattle. Despite challenges with drought, cattle feeders continue to have occupied pen space and an established a pattern of importing US corn. This trend of moving both animals and feed north to sustain on-feed numbers to some extent is projected to continue in 2024. 

On a smaller number of available animals for slaughter, slaughter is forecast to decline one percent in 2024, following a four percent decline in 2023. 

Beef production is forecast to remain stable as carcass weights are anticipated to improve following a decline in 2023. Feeders will look to increase finished weights to offset lower slaughter numbers. 

Cattle prices and contracting numbers provide no indicators for meaningful processing expansion. 

Imports of beef is expected to grow over 2023, with lean trim driving this increase in volume as consumers shift consumption patterns to more ground meat and lesser value cuts amidst the rising cost of living. Exporters will continue to target expansion of export efforts in the Indo-Pacific region, but a smaller beef production volume will see export volumes decline.

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