The fall calf run was finally in full swing at cattle auction yards across Manitoba during the week ended October 26.
“The calf run was slow to come,” Rick Wright, a buyer with Heartland Order Buying Company said. “Up until this week, we were probably running at about 70 per cent of the calves that normally come.”
There are two reasons why Manitoba’s calf run got a late start this year, one being the plain and simple fact that there are less cows in the country to sell, Wright said.
The calf run was also slow going this year because more Manitoba farmers are calving later in the spring.
“When producers calve later in the spring, it means that most of them have to switch their marketing to the late fall or early spring,” Wright said. “So, it just shifts the momentum of the cattle later into the year.”
Wright said the calf run in Manitoba should continue through to the end of November, as it normally does. Then, activity will slow down around Christmas and pick up again in mid-January.
Feeder cattle prices during the week were able to stay steady to stronger compared to the week prior despite a lack of trucks to transport cattle to the East.
“There was a big shortage of trucks to go to the East, and the East was a big buyer of the Manitoba calves, so everybody expected this week prices would be considerably lower, but the market did not break,” Wright said.
Prices only managed to stay steady at some of Manitoba’s auction yards during the week, but in general, they were stronger than anticipated, Wright said. Some calves even managed to yield higher values than they did at the same time in 2011.
Strong demand from both eastern and western buyers was the catalyst in keeping prices from taking a downward turn, Wright said. Many market participants expected that high feed prices, caused by a drought in the U.S., would have a negative impact on feeder cattle prices this fall.
Wright said if feeder prices manage to avoid breaking again during the last week of October, they’ll probably stay strong through to the end of November.
Demand from local buyers was “spotty” during the week. U.S. buyers were also active in the market, but didn’t purchase any feeder cattle.
“Anytime that we’ve got a par plus Canadian dollar it’s very hard for people from the U.S. to buy feeder cattle,” Wright said.
U.S. residents were the main buyers of age-verified butcher cattle during the week, and were also a “major contender” on the butcher cattle out west, Wright said.
Activity at Manitoba’s cattle auction yards was comparable to what went on at auction yards in Alberta and southern Saskatchewan during the week, Wright said. Though, Alberta won’t see its calf run at full capacity until November.
However, activity seen at auction yards in northern Saskatchewan was a completely different story, as they have seen very little volume this fall, Wright said.
“In the northern half of Saskatchewan they’ve had quite a bit more moisture over the summer, and they’ve got more pasture and feed,” he said. “So, they have not been in a hurry to market their calves.”
Buyers in Alberta and Saskatchewan were more confident about purchasing slaughter cattle inventory because of news that XL Foods was allowed to process the meat that’s already in the plant under the watchful eye of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Wright said.
But, the news didn’t provide much support for slaughter cattle prices because XL Foods still has a lot of inventory and doesn’t need to buy anything new yet, Wright said.
Slaughter cattle prices will only start to see some relief if, and when, XL Foods reopens and is able to operate at full capacity again, Wright said.