Ranchers Back In The Black?

The first big sale of the annual fall calf run saw buyers offering the best prices seen in years, which may signal that the bottom of the cattle market has been reached.

It’s just one sale, however, and represents little more than a snapshot of day-to-day conditions, but Michael Buchen, a MAFRI cattle market specialist, who attended the pre-sort sale at Heartland Livestock Services in Brandon Sept. 28, said the “good” prices for all classes of cattle moving through the ring may be here to stay.

“We’re back on the profitable side of these calves,” said Buchen. “We have several years of negative to make up, but prices are rebounding.”

Some of the bigger, better groups of black steers over 400 pounds brought $1.34 per pound, and some under 400 lbs. fetched $1.54 per pound. Eightweight steers brought $1.11, and heifers were selling for 10 to 12 cents less, which is normal, added Buchen.

FIRST RUN

Very few cattle sold for under $1, even the less attractive animals.

The annual pre-sort sale has traditionally been made up of Simmental-influenced calves born early in the year, creep fed and weighing anywhere from 700-850 pounds. It is typically held earlier in September, but bad weather saw it pushed back a few weeks.

Cull cow prices have been slipping lower in September, which could be a seasonal phenomenon or an indication that the market is reaching saturation levels.

Even with the Canadian dollar at 95 cents to the greenback, buyers are back in the market and aggressively filling orders, possibly due to record-low herd numbers south of the border, strong futures prices and an abundance of feed grains after a wet summer left many Prairie crops in poor condition.

“It’s also the feed availability. We’ve got some problem areas, but we’ve also got a hell of a lot of feed in other places, too. It looks like we’re going to have some cheaper, lower-quality grain out there that is going to have to be put through a rumen to recover some costs,” said Buchen.

“Where do we go from here? I think our numbers are so small that we’re going to stay relatively strong,” he said, adding that unless the dollar and corn prices fall, prices won’t likely go much higher in the coming months.

FEED SUPPLIES

Bill Gardiner, a MAFRI pasture and rangeland specialist based in Dauphin, said that while the recent warm spell has many ranchers and hay growers scrambling to put up the last of their hay, supplies of especially tame hay appear to be abundant in many areas.

“The tame forage fields, people have been able to access and make hay on them,” said Gardiner. “But some of the producers who rely on native hay are still struggling.”

A quick look at the Manitoba Hay listing website showed that round alfalfa-grass hay was available for $40 per 1,500- lb. bale, down from around 3.5 cents/lb. last year.

Greenfeed has mostly been rolled up in the Dauphin area, he added. Straw availability may vary, because in some of the wetter areas ruined crops were plowed under.

“In other areas, the crop was good and the straw is there,” said Gardiner. “It’s up to those who know they are going to be short to try to access some.”

Feedrite’s mill in Brandon was paying $3.10 for low-vomi barley last week, according to grain buyer Brett McRae.

The crop coming in right now seems to vary widely, he said, adding that he has seen some “damn good” samples and others that are “not so good.”

Corn is up, and it might drag barley a few cents higher in the coming months, he added.

“The early stuff is not bad, but the stuff that’s getting combined right now I’m not sure what it’s going to look like,” said McRae. “There’s probably going to be a bit more feed grain this year than most.”

With cattle prices back in the black after years of red ink, Buchen predicted that the upcoming January StatsCan numbers will show that the Manitoba herd is growing again after slipping for the past five consecutive years.

With cutbacks in the PMU industry last spring, community pastures seeking placements, and a lot of grassland unfit for cultivation available for raising cattle, the opportunities for beef production appear brighter than they have been in a long time.

“We’re through shrinking. I think we might stay the same or see a small fractional increase in retained heifer ownership,” said Buchen. “Time will prove this, but I think we’ve bottomed, we’re stable, and we’ll start to grow just a fraction of a per cent or stay steady.” [email protected]

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“It’s also the feed availability. We’ve got some problem areas, but we’ve also got a hell of a lot of feed in other places, too. It looks like we’re going to have some cheaper, lower-quality grain out there that is going to have to be put through a rumen to recover some costs.”

– MICHAEL BUCHEN

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