Prices remain in neutral as storm-stayed cattle arrive

Cattle numbers moving through Manitoba’s auction yards saw a sharp increase during the week ended March 15, as the weather co-operated and animals held back because of a snowstorm the previous week made it to market.

Prices held steady overall, with top-end bids for all classes of cattle across the province not changing too dramatically from the previous week. The best demand was said to be coming for lighter, grass-weight cattle. On a province-wide basis, over 12,000 cattle were marketed during the week, roughly tripling the previous week’s level. However, on an annual basis, numbers remain slightly down overall.

“It’s stalled right out,” said Buddy Bergner of Ashern Auction Mart on the current lack of direction in the cattle market. “It’s found itself a price, and it wants to stay there.”

High feed prices continue to hang over the cattle sector, cutting into demand, said Bergner. At the same time, “people only want to pay so much for beef, so the price (of beef) won’t go up.”

Producers continue to exit the cattle business overall, with herd dispersals a major factor in the industry over the winter, said Bergner. While that activity will eventually slow down, the end result will be fewer cattle around in general, he added, noting overall movement in the province appears to be trending down on an annual basis.

The uncertainty in the outside financial sector is also taking its toll on the cattle sector. “We’re going back up the hill, but we’re just two horses short,” said Bergner on the current state of the economic recovery.

Looking at the weekly trade, the biggest demand coming forward was for grass-weight calves, said Bergner. The feed shortage and high cost of feed had limited the demand for that class of animals over the winter — but with optimism picking up ahead of the spring, that buying interest was picking up.

Lighter-weight steers under 600 pounds were topping out in the $160- to $170-per-hundredweight area, for top quality. Good-quality heifers suited for going out to grass were topping out at $140 to as much as $150 in some cases.

Aside from the local buying, movement was generally described as routine, with cattle moving to both eastern and western feedlots.

Weather, and its impact on feed supplies going forward, will play a major factor in determining the direction of cattle values through the summer. “Mother Nature has everything to do with everything,” said Bergner.

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Phil Franz-Warkentin - MarketsFarm

Phil Franz-Warkentin writes for MarketsFarm specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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