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Cattle prices stay on strong side

There was just a slight price drop for some feeder steers 
and heifers this past week

Prices for cattle at Manitoba auction marts continue to stay strong, but some classes did drop off slightly during the week ended November 17.

Feeder steers in the 300 to 400 lb range softened by a few dollars along with heifers in that same weight class. Most classes and weights of calves were four to eight dollars lower.

Volumes were up on the week. A total of 17,350 animals made their way through the rings at the province’s eight major stockyards. That compares to roughly 15,600 the week before.

One of the reasons why the demand for beef has been so strong over the past few weeks, according to one market-watcher, is because of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S.

“That was a driver, especially for those higher value middle-meats,” said Anne Wasko of Gateway Livestock Marketing.

She adds the past few weeks have seen more calves coming to market too, as ranchers make space for their cow herd.

“Profitability in the cattle feeder sector has made the buyers very interested in making sure they own inventory,” said Wasko, adding she expected the calf run to wind down in the next couple of weeks.

She adds the market also may have felt the impact of the USDA’s recent decision to reprogram its grading cameras. In February of this year, the agency launched a new type of camera that could determine marbling scores for quality grades. However, the early returns on the new technology questioned its accuracy. Most reports indicated beef carcasses may have received higher grades than they should. That was good news to many producers in the early going but it left packers scrambling to get their hands on high quality meat.

The USDA recently announced it planned to reprogram the cameras but many packers were still buying animals to make sure they would be well-stocked in the lead-up to Thanksgiving. The situation created some volatility in the market.

“I think that might have created a little bit of hype and one of the reasons why the market settled off like it has,” said Wasko.

Despite the brief dip in prices she says the market is still stronger than it was a few months ago.

“We’re up from that low we made around Labour Day,” she said.

When it comes to feed Wasko expects most growers have sourced supplies for the winter and know their costs generally. Still, she notes cheap U.S. corn continues to flow into major cattle feed areas in Western Canada so that is something everyone will be keeping an eye on.

One other bearish factor facing the market is the number of U.S. cattle on feed. According to the USDA’s recent cattle on feed report, 2.39 million animals had been placed on feed in October. That was 10 per cent higher than a year ago and indicates beef supplies will continue growing in the New Year.

About the author

Columnist

Dave Sims writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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