U.S. cash market helps firm up Man. cattle prices

Marketings of cattle at Manitoba auction yards during the week ended May 18 were noticeably lighter as producers turned animals onto fields for grazing and as their focus turned to the task of spring planting.

“The numbers are coming down. Producers are starting to get out in the fields and are starting to seed,” said Buddy Bergner with Ashern Auction Mart.

He forecast that the number of cattle being marketed will continue to taper off during the summer months of June, July and August as they have in previous years.

With producers turning out cattle to pasture, he said, marketings would likely decline. He also felt that with the completion of some financial obligations at the end of the tax year, producers also are not in as much of a hurry to unload cattle.

While Bergner acknowledged some producers were concentrating on planting crops, he said individuals in his region were not. “The ground in our part of the province is more suited for raising cattle and that will likely remain the focus.”

Some producers would still likely plant crops, he said, but more than likely they would be for silage.

Cattle prices for good-quality animals continued to hold steady and were even a bit firmer, Bergner said. There were some obvious discounts for second- and third-cut animals.

Demand for Manitoba cattle continued to come from a variety of outlets, he said.

“We saw some pretty good demand for cattle from Quebec and Ontario,” he said, and western demand was also evident, with much of that interest being for the bigger cattle.

Retail demand for hamburger was still strong, helping to generate the steady to higher price tone for the slaughter animals. Demand for the barbecue season in Western Canada was seen picking up further, as long as the weather remains conducive to sitting out on the decks of households.

Firmness in Manitoba cattle markets was also associated in part with the downswing in the value of the Canadian dollar during the past week, with the currency trading below par with the U.S. unit.

Higher cash prices for cattle in the U.S., because of strong U.S. consumer demand and tighter-than-anticipated cattle-on-feed numbers, as reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week, helped to keep Manitoba values firm.

U.S. analysts noted U.S. consumers are paying near-record prices for beef for the barbecue and those same steaks and ribs will likely cost even more in autumn.

USDA’s cattle-on-feed report released May 18 suggested supplies of slaughter-ready beef cattle in U.S. this fall and winter will be extremely tight, those analysts added.

The total number of cattle on feed in the U.S., where they’re fattened before slaughter, was smaller on May 1 compared to a year ago — the first time that’s happened in two years.

USDA reported 1.52 million animals were added to U.S. feedlots in April, a 14.8 per cent decrease from the same month a year earlier and 6.5 per cent below the five‑year average.

The report also marked the first time in two years that the number of cattle in feedlots, where they are fattened before slaughter, was smaller than the same month a year earlier.

USDA also reported the total number of cattle in U.S. feedlots at nearly 11.11 million as of May 1, 0.6 per cent below last year’s level and 1.3 per cent above the five‑year average.

The total cattle‑on‑feed number was slightly smaller than what pre-report expectations had called for.

Tight supplies are due in large part to a pair of knock‑off effects from a devastating drought in the U.S. southern Plains that’s just beginning to ease. U.S. analysts said many ranchers there have much smaller herds after selling stressed animals off parched pastures for 18 months or longer.

Now that conditions have improved in states such as Texas and Oklahoma, ranchers have begun holding back animals to rebuild herds, a dynamic that further tightens supplies.

The tight supply in the U.S. was expected to remain a factor in the price firmness being experienced at the cattle auction yards in Manitoba, as well as the rest of the Canadian Prairies.

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