WINCHESTER – Based on plummeting North American herd numbers there’s reason to believe there will be opportunities for some sectors of the beef industry in the coming months.
"It looks like a turnaround," Ryder Lee, manager of Federal Provincial Relations with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, told Eastern Ontario farmers at the Dundas Cattlemen’s Association Beef Day last month.
Based on current USDA statistics, herd numbers in the U.S., which include all cattle including dairy, are at levels not seen since the 1950s, he elaborated after the event in Winchester on April 4. Canadian herd numbers, for all cattle including dairy, are also down according to Stats Canada reports for January, showing just over 13 million head, lower than pre-BSE figures in 2003.
And, while the national beef herd has dropped from 4.752 million in 2004 to 4.564 in 2009, the drop in Ontario’s beef herd is steeper still – in the 20 percent range from 2003 to 2009. There is no question that herd numbers are down, said Lee, "and it will affect what we can put on feed this fall."
Jim Clark, executive director of the Ontario Cattle Feeders Association, also told beef farmers that herd numbers could signal a turn around in the industry.
In an interview following Beef Day, Clark said he is relatively confident that calf prices will be good this year but is less optimistic about the prospects for feedlot operators based on market conditions that are, he said, "not even at a break-even mark."
As well as dwindling herd numbers, beef production is down 30 per cent across the province, said Clark. A lot of people got out of the business and once they leave, he added, "they never, ever come back." What the Ontario livestock industry needs is what the oil and seed grain sector has and what farmers in Alberta and Quebec have, said Clark, and that is a risk mitigating strategy for beef and pork. Farmers don’t want welfare-like ad hoc programs, he added, they want programs they can pay into like the crop insurance program.
With calf prices up in Alberta, Ontario feedlots will be competing for calves to put on feed and Clark rhetorically asked farmers at Beef Day, "where are they going to come from?"
"If you’ve got five calves or 10 calves, said Clark, "I want you in the program."
The Ontario Corn Fed Beef program is the brand marketed across North America by the Ontario Cattle Feeders Association.
Efficient management practices dictate that feedlots, many with upwards of 1,000 head on feed, need large groups of calves consistent in weight and breed. But there is no reason smaller cow/calf producers can’t take advantage of this calf shortage and get the best price they can, said Clark. Co-mingling and collective sales will not only help cow/calf producers get the best price possible but provide feedlots with the large groups of good calves they need.
Just such an initiative will get under way this fall for cow/calf producers in Eastern Ontario wanting to take advantage of premium prices for value-added calves at the Fall Calf-O-Rama Sales at Keady Livestock Market south of Owen Sound in late October.
Age verified, pre-sorted and vaccinated calves will be sold in breeder lots, said organizer, Rose Stewart of Morewood. Calves will have been vaccinated using herd vaccination protocols for the Central Calf Producers Association. Shipping costs to the all-breed sale on October 31 will be on a per animal basis. There are no weight or age requirements Steward said, but it would be unlikely to see calves under 400 pounds at the sale. There is a penalty fee for errors in castration and de-horning
Vaccination protocols, which include the cow as well as the calf, are brand specific and there are no substitutions, she said. Calves are guaranteed at the sale to have followed the protocol and Dr.Peter Kotzeff from the Chesley veterinary clinic follows their health from the sale through to the feedlot for six months. The Fall Calf-O-Rama also includes two breed specific sales for the Bruce Peninsula Calf Producers Association and the Bluewater Black Calf Producers Association. That health data, collected over the last few years, gives producers information on how their calves fair out and buyers assurances that they are getting healthy calves that will do well in the feed lot.
Come September BIO (Beef Improvement Ontario) will no longer be in the age verification business, said Stewart, however lots of companies are coming on board. The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association website (www.cattle.ca) has a list of where tags can be ordered and the verification looked after for the producer.
Calves going to the Keady auction don’t necessarily have to be weaned but they do have to be "bunk adjusted" and know to go somewhere to get food, said Stewart. Pre-weaning however does decrease their stress during travel, they settle into the feedlot better, and they don’t lose as much weight if they aren’t looking around for their mothers, she said.
Stewart would like to see 500 calves leave Eastern Ontario for the Calf-O-Rama, but as this is the first year she’d be satisfied with a pot load. "If local people want better prices," she added, "this is the way to do it."
Eastern Ontario producers interested in selling value-added calves at Keady’s can contact Rose Stewart at 613-448-3454.