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Beef Cattle Sell-Off In Alberta Eases

Farmers have slowed the sell-off of beef cattle in Alberta, Canada’s top producing province, as feed supplies improve in the parched Canadian province.

Farmer sales to auction marts have levelled off at 16,000 to 16,500 head per week, said Scott McKinnon, market analyst with CanFax. That suggests that recent rain has improved pastures enough that farmers are grazing feeder cattle longer, he said.

“Some of the pressure’s off,” McKinnon said.

Prospects for winter feed supplies have also improved due to poorly growing cereal crops that won’t make milling or malting quality and will sell instead for animal feed, McKinnon said.

“The moisture now has basically stopped the (faster) flow of cattle,” said Ken Ziegler, beef specialist with the Alberta government. In late June, auction marts had limited the number of cattle farmers could bring in during a week.

Farmers’ prospects of feeding their cattle are better but still grim. Only those pastures with at least three inches (76 mm) of rain recently are likely to improve significantly because of the lateness of the growing season, said Barry Yaremcio, beef and forage specialist with the Alberta government.

Farmers with dried-out pastures earlier grazed their cattle on hayland, which is usually their source of winter feed, Ziegler said.

The province’s beef herd is expected to shrink by 20 to 30 per cent from 1.85 million head this year, Yaremcio said, as farmers have faced low prices, high feed costs, and restrictive country-of-origin labelling on exports to the United States.

Statistics Canada will release livestock inventory data on Aug. 20.

Farmers typically buy cows to restock their herds in fall, but may not this year unless prices improve and they’re confident in feed supplies, Ziegler said.

Cows are selling at a five-year high of 40 to 45 Canadian cents per pound for hamburger, but that’s sharply lower than prices before the 2003 discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in a Canadian herd crashed prices.

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