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Canadian cattle herd numbers keep dropping

It’s at its lowest point since 1988, dropping 26.3 per cent from a peak recorded in 2005

The Canadian cattle herd continues to shrink and is at the lowest July 1 number since 1988, Statistics Canada reported in its summer inventory report.

Breeding stock numbers are also down and many in the industry say it is unlikely to improve, at least in Western Canada, because drought and resulting feed shortages will force sales.

Why it matters: Fluctuations to the national beef herd offer insights into cattle producers’ view of the industry’s shorter term outlook. Breeding stock declines and fewer heifers being retained for breeding sends strong signals that many producers see the upcoming winter as a time to downsize and hold on, rather than a time to invest and grow.

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As of July 1, Canada had 12.4 million cattle on farms, down 0.8 per cent from July 2017, StatsCan said. That’s 26.3 per cent less than the peak number recorded in July 2005.

The number of beef heifers retained for breeding was down 2.6 per cent to 669,000. The number of beef cows declined by 1.2 per cent to 3.7 million head. Calf numbers were down 1.3 per cent to four million. Feeder heifer numbers were up 2.7 per cent and steers were down by 1.3 per cent compared to July 2017, according to the report.

On the dairy side, StatsCan reported 1.4 million cows on farms, up 0.8 per cent from July 1, 2017.

Canfax gave additional perspective to the numbers in its late August report.

“Cow marketings were up 11 per cent in the first half of the year, and poor calving conditions also may have contributed to lower calf numbers,” it said. “The Canadian calf inventory was 3.994 million head, and the last time the July 1 calf inventory was below four million was 1990.”

Most of the beef herd decline occurred in Western Canada, where cow inventory was down 1.3 per cent and heifer retention was down three per cent.

However, cattle numbers did increase in British Columbia by about three per cent. Manitoba numbers declined by 2.6 per cent, and Saskatchewan and Alberta by 1.4 per cent.

As for hog inventories, StatsCan said this report indicates the first year-over-year decrease in numbers since July 2014.

“However, the hog inventory remains 11.1 per cent above the July 1, 2014, level. As of July 1, 8,115 farms reported hogs in Canada, down 2.5 per cent from the same date a year earlier. These farms reported 1.2 million sows and gilts, up 0.3 per cent from July 1, 2017,” said StatsCan.

Some 2.7 million hogs were exported in the first half of this year, down 6.9 per cent from the same period in 2017.

Meanwhile, the number of sheep in Canada rose by 1.6 per cent compared to July 2017, with a total of 1,065,400 animals.

The sheep breeding herd increased for the first time in seven years, with more ewes and replacement lambs. The number of market lambs increased 2.5 per cent from year ago levels, totalling 423,700.

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