Livestock feed crisis kicks off

Farmers are getting a sense of exactly how much trouble they’re in now that the winter is closing in

The province hopes to revamp forage insurance, but an update to future insurance will not help producers face down their current crisis, Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development Minister Blaine Pedersen acknowledged.

Feed trucks have become a common sight as producers scramble to overwinter cattle, Ste. Rose du Lac Mayor Robert Brunel said.

Brunel says it is difficult to gauge how severely producers in his area are culling, but suggested that 20 to 50 per cent culls are not impossible.

Other municipalities suggested that some producers may be culling up to two-thirds of their cattle.

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There has been some silver lining. The same wet fall that made for a nightmarish grain harvest also gave drought-stricken pastures a second lease on life. Some producers who had been pasture feeding since August were able to rely on grazing once again, provincial staff reported earlier this fall, and Brunel says some cattle are still grazing in his area.

“Which is great,” he said, also noting that, “The warmer the weather is, the longer their feed supply, whatever they have, can be stretched.

“Hopefully the producers are able to market the cattle that they want and decide the herds they want and access some feed, whether it’s feed grains or supplements to allow them to keep as many cows (as possible),” he said.

Auction marts are starting to feel the pressure of the promised cull.

“We’re definitely seeing a lot of cattle that should have come to the auction mart next winter coming now,” Buddy Bergner of the Ashern Auction Mart said. “That’s where we’re seeing our increases, a lot of them. And everybody’s selling hard. They’re preg checking and any cow that doesn’t have a calf, she’s going to town. They’re really culling hard to get the rest of the cattle through the winter.

“Everybody’s short of feed for miles up here,” he added.

If total cattle volumes haven’t skyrocketed past what Bergner would normally expect in the fall run, it is only because there are fewer and fewer cattle in the area, he added.

Numbers at the Ashern Auction Mart have fluctuated between 2,200 to almost 3,400 head over the last month of sales. The auction mart reported its peak volumes Nov. 7 at 3,377 head, a number that broke down to 325 cows, 22 bulls and 3,030 feeder cattle.

Numbers at Heartland Livestock Services have also climbed, with the company’s Virden location reporting 4,262 head at its Nov. 20 sale.

The affected RMs

A dozen municipalities in the Interlake and Parkland declared the state of disaster at the end of August thanks to a second year of drought conditions and poor forage.

  • Alonsa
  • Armstrong
  • Bifrost-Riverton
  • Coldwell
  • Ethelbert
  • Fisher
  • Grahamdale
  • Lakeshore
  • McCreary
  • Ste. Rose
  • West Interlake
  • Woodlands

Producers warned of significant cattle culls if no winter feed solutions could be found. Four other municipalities later joined the call for disaster relief:

  • Gilbert Plains
  • Glenella-Lansdowne
  • Rosedale
  • St. Laurent

Representatives from those municipalities lobbed questions and requests for support to Agriculture and Resource Development Minister Blaine Pedersen during an AMM ministerial panel Nov. 26.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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