Hot prices at early cattle sale bode well for fall run

CHAIN LAKES, Alta. — Boom times continue for the Canadian cattle business and recent yearling sales indicate a hot fall market.

It’s so hot that market analysts no longer make predictions.

“I did say prices could go a little higher in 2015 but we really shot through the moon again,” said Brian Perillat of Canfax, in an interview Aug. 12.

He continues to advise caution because the big rally may be past.

“We cannot really count on these high prices on feeders to continue.”

Nevertheless, he thinks the fall feeder run could see calves sell for $300-$400 per hundredweight. This summer 500-pound steers sold for up to $350 per cwt. compared to $159 a few years ago.

“They used to sell a finished animal for $1,200. Now they are $2,500,” Perillat said.

Recent video sales offering large packages of yearlings indicate the good times are still rolling.

“Last year I said we will never sell cattle higher than this,” said auctioneer Frank Jenkins of the Southern Alberta Livestock Exchange based in Fort Macleod.

The company held its sixth annual video yearling sale Aug. 7 at the Chain Lakes Provincial Park and offered nearly 10,000 yearlings with weight ranges from 650 to 1,000 lb.

Large lots in packages of 45 to 450 head sold quickly with prices in line with the Canfax weekly averages.

Back in 2010, the first yearling sale of the season offered 13,000 head. Steers sold for $1.07-$1.13 per lb. and heifers for 97 cents to $1.05.

This year, heavier weight steers in the 850 lb. range averaged $256 per cwt. and heifers were about $10 less. Canfax averages for steers 800-900 lb. were $252 and heifers averaged $238.

Steers weighing 750-800 lb. averaged $264 and heifers about $20 less per cwt.

The cattle are still on grass but given dry conditions, delivery dates were mostly September and early October.

Although parts of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan are experiencing drought, sales managers have not seen a major selloff. People may be reluctant to part with good cow herd they’ve spent years building, and with these prices, they may be more willing to buy higher priced hay, said Jenkins.

His company will be selling 25,000 calves on Sept. 11 in Lethbridge where prices are expected to be in the $300-$400 per cwt. range.

Mark Shologan of Direct Livestock Marketing Services said his company is experiencing strong sales across the country.

The DLMS yearling video sale on Aug. 13 sold more than 10,000 head.

Steers weighing more than 900 lb. ranged from $235-$250.75 per cwt. and those averaging 800 lb. sold for $251.75-$268. Heifer packages in that weight range were $10-$20 less.

Calves were also on offer, with lots in the 500-600 lb. range fetching $278.50-$340 per cwt. A package of 300 lb. steer calves was bid up to $446 per cwt.

Video sales are increasingly popular for sellers and buyers, said Jenkins.

Weather conditions do not affect sale day and large numbers can be sold at once. It is also a stress-free system for the seller and for feedlots because they can better schedule the days cattle arrive. Video sales make it easier for auction markets to host events because they can reduce labour needs at times when it is difficult to find a good crew.

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