Growth elusive for key livestock sectors

Canada’s cattle herd is 27.4 percent smaller than the peak registered in 2005; hog and sheep numbers are also down

The Canadian cattle herd shows no signs of growing, nor do the hog and sheep sectors.

Statistics Canada released its inventory report last week showing numbers as of July 1, 2019, and indicating continued domestic cattle herd decline that has been ongoing since 2005.

The national cattle herd shrunk 1.3 percent from July 2018, to 12.3 million animals. That’s 27.4 percent below the peak reported in July 2005.

“We figured they’d be down,” said Canfax general manager Brian Perillat about cattle numbers.

“We figured the cows would be down. Heifers were down quite significantly but again, a lot of uncertainty around the dry weather and things this spring that certainly hit Western Canada.”

Statistics Canada indicated breeding heifer numbers were down 4.8 percent compared to one year ago, at 637,800 head. Beef cow numbers dropped 1.7 percent to total 3.7 million head. Feeder heifer numbers dropped 4.7 percent and steers dropped by 4.5 percent compared to July 2018.

The decline in feeder numbers, “that was maybe a little bit bigger than we thought, given our cattle-on-feed numbers as high as they are and given the feeders we’ve imported and modest feeder exports,” said Perillat.

Simple economics, combined with weather conditions, are behind declining numbers.

“The January-to-June average price of Canadian slaughter cattle has continuously declined year over year since 2015,” Statistics Canada said in its summary of livestock inventory.

“Droughts in Canada and the United States in 2014 and 2015 caused cattle farms to reduce the size of their herds, resulting in a sharp increase in cattle prices. Since that time, the combined Canada and U.S. inventory has increased to surpass the pre-drought inventory level and Canadian cattle prices have come back down.”

High feed prices due to dry conditions reduce profit opportunities, Perillat added.

“It doesn’t really pay to buy expensive feed at $2 or $2.20 calves.”

Total cattle slaughter increased by 1.3 percent to 1.7 million head in the first half of 2019, Statistics Canada reported. That was the fourth consecutive year over year increase. International exports of cattle increased 21.1 percent to 414,000 head compared to the same period in 2018.

Alberta continues to have the largest number of cattle, 40 percent of the national total. Combined with Saskatchewan, the two prairie provinces have almost two-thirds of Canada’s cattle.

Hog inventories, recorded at 14 million animals, declined by less than 0.1 percent, Statistics Canada reported. Though it was the second consecutive year over year decrease, the hog inventory is still 10.8 percent larger than it was 10 years ago.

In the hog sector, Statistics Canada said demand from China for Canadian pork was strong in the first five months of 2019, before China stopped imports due to problems with export certificates. July 1 figures did not reflect any change but that might be evident in the next report.

“Canada exported 2.6 million hogs in the first half of 2019, down 4.1 percent from the same period in 2018,”Statistics Canada said.

“Lower imports of weaners from Canada may have been partly attributable to high levels of hog inventories in the United States, which, on June 1, 2019, were at their highest level since 1964. Canadian exports were 48.7 percent below their peak level, recorded on July 1, 2008.”

Hog slaughter increased slightly in the first six months of this year compared to the previous six months, it added. The average price of slaughter hogs rose in 2019 and the value of pork exports to all countries was up by 9.5 percent. Value of pork exports to China was up 92.8 percent in the first six months of this year.

Quebec has the highest number of hogs, nearly one-third of the domestic total. Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba have more than 80 percent of Canada’s total hog inventory.

The sheep and lamb inventory declined by two percent compared to July 2018. Total number as of July 1 was 1.04 million head. Sheep numbers took a slight jump in July 2018 but otherwise the domestic herd size has declined each year since 2011.

In the sheep and lamb sector, the number of ewes declined by one percent as of July 1 compared to the same date in 2018, totalling 511,000 head. Replacement lamb numbers were down 4.5 percent to 87,000 head. Ram numbers also dropped by 1.2 percent to 23,900 head.

International sheep exports were unchanged from last July, at 4,400 head. Average price of slaughter lambs decreased in 2019 compared to the first six months of 2018, says Statistics Canada.

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