Klassen: Feeder cattle market between hammer and anvil

(Photo courtesy Canada Beef Inc.)

The western Canadian feeder cattle market was hard to define this past week. Heavier feeder cattle were $3 lower to as much as $4 higher compared to week-ago levels; however, calf prices and lighter-weight feeders were steady to as much $6 higher. Alberta feedlot operators led the charge on calves with buying activity noted across the Prairies. Order buyers were bombarded with interest but there were limits on price and volume. At times, vacuums were noted, resulting in light slippage, especially on lighter calves. We saw 500-lb. higher-quality steers trade from $215 to $225.

A solid foundation was established as weights increased. Larger-frame Charolais 600-lb. steer calves sold for $198 in central Alberta while Manitoba prices for similar-quality cattle were quoted from $196 to $198. There were sounds of alarm with a smaller group of exotic steers weighing just under 600 lbs. quoted at $215 in southern Alberta.

Heavier feeder cattle were also firm, but slippage was noted on fleshier animals. The discerning eye became a factor resulting in a wider price range. Medium-frame medium-flesh Angus-based 825-lb. steers were quoted at $167 in central Alberta but larger-frame 825-lb. tan steers were as high as $176 in southern Alberta. Hot pockets were noted in eastern Saskatchewan, with prices $2 to $5 above Alberta values, but could not be explained. U.S. interest surfaced at times, putting some oxygen on the fire.

Alberta packers were buying fed cattle from $160 to $162 this past week. Although this is slightly lower than last week, feedlot margins remain in healthy territory. U.S. fed cattle jumped US$3-$4 on a live basis, reaching US$123, the highest level since July.

Overall buying interest on feeders is improving because feedlot margins have remained in positive territory for a sustained period. Live cattle futures continue to percolate higher and the feeder market has some breathing room to catch up.

— Jerry Klassen is manager of the Canadian office for Swiss-based grain trader GAP SA Grains and Produits. He is also president and founder of Resilient Capital, which specializes in proprietary commodity futures trading and commodity market analysis. Jerry owns farmland in Manitoba and Saskatchewan but grew up on a mixed farm/feedlot operation in southern Alberta, which keeps him close to the grassroots level of grain and cattle production. Jerry is a graduate of the University of Alberta. He can be reached at 204-504-8339.

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