This cattle market information is selected from the weekly report from Canfax, a division of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association. More market information, analysis and statistics are available by becoming a Canfax subscriber by calling 403-275-5110 or at www.canfax.ca.
Active fed trade
Alberta direct cattle sales saw very active trade last week with dressed prices $2-$3 per hundredweight higher than the previous week. Most sales were reported in a tight $244-$245 per cwt. delivered range. Light live trade was steady to $4 per cwt. higher than the previous week from $143-$147 per cwt. f.o.b. the feedlot.
Weighted average prices rallied more than $1 per cwt. higher than the previous week and prices were the highest since early June. Buyer interest continued to intensify Jan. 8 and a stronger market tone was reported for clean-up trade.
Western Canadian fed slaughter for the week ending Jan. 2 was seasonally modest at 28,012 head, down four percent from the previous week. Year to date, western Canadian fed slaughter was two percent larger, closing 2020 at 2,099,933 head. Western Canadian steer carcass weights were 10 pounds lighter than the previous week at 912 lb. but were significantly 29 lb. larger than the same week last year.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that Canadian fed cattle-cow exports for the four-day week ending Dec. 26 were 52 percent lower than the previous week at 4,011 head but were four percent higher than the same week last year.
Early week Ontario trade started out at $230-$232 per cwt. delivered. With Cargill chain speed recently rebounding to typical weekly volumes, Jan. 6-7 bids firmed and light trade was reported at $236 per cwt. delivered. Follow-up trade continued at $236 per cwt. delivered after hours on Jan. 8.
Excellent feeding weather and performance is pulling summer-placed yearlings forward and large carcass weights will need to be managed. Market-ready feedlot supplies should tighten as cattle feeders are poised to gain first quarter leverage. COVID-induced restaurant lockdowns are expected to have a negative impact on food service beef demand in the new year, but increased retail sales should pick up some of the slack. Feedlot leverage should continue to be supportive this week.
In the United States, live cattle traded mostly steady with the previous week at US$111-$112. Dressed sales in the north were generally $1 per cwt. higher at $176-$177 per cwt. Steer weights continue to decline with weights in the last week of December dropping eight lb. from the previous week and were only eight lb. above a year ago. This eight lb. year-over-year increase was the smallest it had been in all of 2020.
Low cow volumes
Compared to the end of December, butcher cows traded mostly steady through commercial auction facilities, but rail prices were steady to as much as $5 per cwt. higher. Butcher bull prices were $1.50 per cwt. higher compared to the end of December. D2 cows averaged $75.40, and D3s averaged $64.70 per cwt. Butcher bulls averaged $99.42 per cwt.
In certain spots there were some bigger runs of cows last week, but in general non-fed volumes were smaller than expected for the first week of January. Statistically there is a very low probability of seeing first quarter price highs in January because this has only happened two times (2016 and 2018) in the past 15 years.
From their 2020 fall low in November, butcher cow prices have already rallied 10.5 percent. Over the past five years from second half of the year lows to first half of the year highs, the average increase is 23 percent. Using an historical increase, this would put cow prices on track to peak at $83 per cwt. this year.
Feed prices rise
U.S. corn futures have hit six-year highs, and barley is trending higher. Sales for January to March have been reported from $279-$285 per tonne delivered into southern Alberta. Barley prices are 18 to 21 percent higher than last year. Given those prices and tight supplies, some feedlots have started feeding a higher percentage of wheat, and U.S. corn is also being railed into southern and central Alberta.
Last week on a light test of the calf and feeder market, all classes of steers were steady with prices seen in late December, while heifer prices were steady to lower. With higher grain prices, the steer-heifer spread has widened. Last week the steer-heifer price spread for 550 lb. calves was $33 per cwt. Over the past five years the average 500-600 lb. steer-heifer price spread for January has been slightly more than $30 per cwt.
For the first half of January, 500-600 lb. steer prices are right in line with 2019 but 900 lb. and heavier steer prices are the lowest since 2014. Feeders weighing more than 800 lb. are usually strong out of the gate in January and seasonally weaken into February. Over the past five years from the beginning of January to early February, on average 850 lb. steers drop $7.30 per cwt. and 900 lb. and heavier steer prices drop $9.50 per cwt. Over the past five years, the average feedlot loss on 800-900 lb. steers placed in January is $58 per head. The 10-year average is a profit of $3 per head.
Backlogged fed supplies are being processed. Smaller fourth quarter placements in Alberta and Saskatchewan and the U.S. are also supportive. Higher feed grain prices could mean fed cattle will be shipped out at lighter weights.
U.S beef trade
In U.S. beef trade, cut-out values traded mixed last week with Choice sliding US$4 per cwt. lower to average $205.81 and Select firming $1 per cwt. higher to average $196.59.
Total U.S. cattle slaughter was estimated significantly larger than the previous week at 651,000 head and one percent larger than the same week last year. Cut-out values are expected to stabilize this week.