Canada, U.S. look to relax cross-border feeder cattle rules

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – The U.S.-based National Cattlemen’s Association has approved a pilot project to ease feeder cattle trade between Western Canada and the northern states.

Ben Thorlakson, of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, told the NCA animal health subcommittee that the Northwest Cattle Project aims to lower costs in the cattle trade. The project proposes to suspend mandatory health tests between Western Canada and the northwestern states. The package was presented during the NCA annual convention here.

Feeder cattle already move freely but American steers and spayed heifers must pass relatively expensive health tests for tuberculosis and anaplasmosis throughout the year and bluetongue during the summer months.

Canadian feeders going south require negative tests for brucellosis and tuberculosis. Although Canada hasn’t had a case of brucellosis since the mid 1980s, vaccinations are required for heifers in 23 states.

Health tests and holding charges add an additional $20-$25 a head to the price of each feeder crossing the border. The cost is a few dollars less on Canadian feeders going stateside.

However, in times of low cattle prices, those charges may be enough to keep people from trading.

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“If those other cattle are coming from Montana, do they pay the $20 tax or do they not,” said Thorlakson. He argues that extra charge makes bidders think twice before buying a load of foreign cattle.

Because of the size of the western Canadian feeding business and the anticipated expanded kill of 180,000 animals a week at Alberta plants owned by IBP and Cargill, there will be more demand for fat cattle. Now the combined slaughter of the two packers is around 120,000 head a week.

To fill the gaps, cattle will have to be brought in from a larger trading region that could include Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and possibly Hawaii.

The project has several components. Canada would designate special feedlots to accept American feeders without health tests.

Cattle entering these feedlots would carry a U.S. department of agriculture metal ear tag and would not leave until slaughter. If an animal died in the feedlot, its identity would be noted.

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Montana legislative amendments are required before any cattle can move freely across the border.

Trace disease origin

A major concern is the ability to identify and trace the origin of each animal if a disease outbreak occurs.

The project was presented to the NCA’s semi-annual meeting last summer and was accepted then. The idea originated with the CCA and the Montana Stockgrowers Association more than a year ago.

In 1993, feeder exports, from mostly Montana to Canada, totaled 22,000 and the following year 55,000 arrived. It’s estimated an additional 11 percent came in 1995.

Conversely in 1995, the USDA estimated 17,900 Canadian feeders were sold to the U.S. compared to 1993 when 232,923 went south.

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On the finished side, 790,549 were sent for slaughter in American plants in 1995.