Blizzards sock in some cattle auctions, but not all

Blizzard conditions across much of southern Manitoba kept some auction marts closed and some buyers snowed in during the week ended March 8, but the late-winter storm also brought in some renewed optimism for feed supplies going forward.

After seeing nearly 10,000 head of cattle move through the various markets across the province the previous week, numbers were more than halved during the reporting period as March came in like a lion.

However, the show went on in Killarney despite the fact that many schools were shut down at the time. “Sunday was a good day,” said Allan Munroe of the Killarney Auction Mart, accounting for the animals that were on hand to move the next day.

“We didn’t have the quality of cattle this week that we’ve had the past few weeks, but it looks like the market is starting to perk up a little bit.”

While spring might still be some time in coming, “we’re certainly getting closer,” and the improving moisture prospects across North America were leading to more optimism from livestock feeders, said Munroe. The likelihood of a large U.S. corn crop should make feeding cattle a more profitable endeavour this year, he said.

People who bought cattle last fall “took a bath” over the winter months, with the 650-weight animals that moved for $1.52 per pound in October only bringing in $1.22 now at 850 lbs., said Munroe.

However, “you don’t make money with empty pens,” and if U.S. corn values continue to move lower he expected there would be more profits to be made in the livestock sector.

Grain analysts have pegged corn prices going forward at anywhere from US$4 to $9 per bushel, and the likely choppiness in the grain market could lead to some uncertainty in cattle as well. Munroe was bracing for a roller-coaster of activity in the futures over the summer “depending on whether a cloud goes by or not.

“We’re definitely seeing more aggressive bidding,” he said. “There are some sales where (the buyers) look at each other like, ‘I really don’t want them, but I guess someone has to buy them,’ and you get other sales where they start chirping at each other, jumping bids, and wanting to own the cattle — and that’s what we were seeing this Monday.”

Much of the demand was local during the week, with some heading west and only “a handful” moving south across the border. After showing a large demand back in the fall, eastern buyers were not showing consistent demand anymore, Munroe added.

Looking ahead, many local buyers didn’t have the feed this year and wanted to wait as long as they could before they came to the market. That demand is starting to pick up, and will be a factor until the grass starts to grow, said Munroe.

There were also a fair number of producers that sold off their steers over the winter, but didn’t like the heifer price at the time and kept them aside, said Munroe. Those animals will either be sold in the spring or put out to grass.

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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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