Cattle producers continue to reduce herd

The total inventory of cattle and calves as of July 1 was 23 percent below its peak level recorded in 2005

The Canadian cattle herd continues to shrink, although some are wondering if the latest statistics reflect what is happening in the countryside.

Record prices should be a signal to expand, said Bill Jameson, a partner at JGL Livestock in Moose Jaw, Sask.

“Return on investment usually spurs expansion. If this is not the case, I don’t know what it will take,” he said.

“After this year’s calf crop is sold, I think there will be some expansion, but quite frankly, it is a mystery to me.… It is hard for me to believe we are still shrinking our cow herd.”

Statistics Canada said Aug. 20 that there were 13 million cattle on 82,050 farms as of July 1, which is down 2.1 percent from July 1, 2014.

The total inventory of cattle and calves July 1, 2015, was 23 percent below its peak level recorded in 2005, but prices have increased more than 80 percent in the last five years.

The number of beef cows fell 3.4 percent from July 1, 2014, to 3.8 million head, while the number of beef heifers held for breeding edged down .6 percent year over year to 612,600 head.

Dave Solverson, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, said people have been holding back heifers to rebuild their herds, but this year’s dry weather may have forced them to sell if they ran out of feed.

“Anecdotally, I was starting to hear about some expansion,” he said.

He wants the herd to regroup to keep feedlots and packers running.

“It is a risk for us to shrink the herd much more because of infrastructure loss,” he said.

“If we get so we don’t have enough cattle around to be competitive for the two plants in Western Canada, that could be an issue.”

Canadian feedlots are buying high priced cattle, but their margins are slipping into the red after a year of good returns, said Jameson.

“We are probably getting into a break even or slight loss position right now,” he said.

Exports of feeder cattle were strong, but that business is falling off because Canadian cattle are too expensive.

“Right now in the feeding sector we have a made-in-Canada market,” he said.

The statistics report said a limited number of animals are available to go to market because of decline in herd size. Slaughter decreased 13.5 percent to 1.4 million head compared with the first six months of 2014.

The hog industry reported expansion at 1.1 percent: 13.2 million hogs on 6,995 farms. It is estimated there are 1.2 million sows and gilts, a slight increase over last year.

Hog slaughter increased by nearly three percent during the first six months of this year compared to last year, when 10.5 million were killed.

Canada exported 2.8 million hogs in the first half of 2015, which was up 17.8 percent from the same period in 2014.

The sheep population fell 2.1 percent to 1.1 million head. Market lamb numbers were down, and there are fewer breeding ewes. Replacement lambs fell three percent compared with the same date in 2014.

There were 1.4 million dairy cows and heifers, down 2.2 percent from July 1, 2014.

  • The beef cattle population declined in the western provinces by 2.5 percent. Broken down by province, the decline was three percent in Saskatchewan, 1.6 percent in Manitoba, 2.8 percent in Alberta and .8 percent in British Columbia.
  • Total western cattle numbers as of July 1, 2015, were 5.3 million in Alberta, 2.7 million in Saskatchewan, 1.2 million in Manitoba and 655,000 in B.C.

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