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In the statistics Canada January 1st 2017 cattle inventory report, it shows total Canadian cattle inventories up marginally (0.2%) to 12.1 million head. This is the second consecutive year of increased total cattle numbers. However, the increases were both minor compared to the large declines in the last decade; and total cattle inventories remained 19% below the peak of 14.9 million head in 2005.
Despite a 3.8% or 20,200 head increase in breeding heifer inventories on January 2016, the national beef cow herd was only up 0.2% to 3.8 million head on January 1st 2017, as cow marketings in 2016 increased 3.6% or 20,800 head. Western Canada accounts for 87% of the national herd, with the numbers up 0.5% to 3.3 million head. Eastern Canada accounts for 13%, with the numbers down 2.2% to 487,800 head. Beef cows consolidated in the east and expanded in a couple of provinces in the west with Atlantic provinces -4.9%, Ontario -3%, Quebec -0.3%, Manitoba -0.3%, Alberta -0.8%, British Columbia +2.1% and Saskatchewan +2.4%.
With sharply lower cattle prices dampening cow/calf margins in 2016, the sign for expansion has waned. Breeding heifer numbers were down 1.8% to 536,600 head, which is in line with the ten-year (2007-2016) average of 538,600 head. Provincially, heifer retention was down in Ontario (-4.6%), Manitoba (-4.1%), Alberta (-2.2%) and Saskatchewan (-1.8%); but up in Quebec (+10%), Atlantic Provinces (+3.2%) and B.C. (+1.8%). Combining beef cow and breeding heifers, the total breeding female numbers were steady at 4.4 million head.
Reduced heifer retention combined with a 41% decline in feeder exports in 2016 have been supportive to domestic feeder supplies. Steer inventories posted the first year-over-year increase since 2012, up 0.9% to 1.2 million head. Slaughter heifer numbers increased for the second year in a row, up 1.3% to 937,000 head. The increase was driven by the top feeder exporting provinces – Saskatchewan (heifers +13.6%, steers +6.8%) and Manitoba (heifers +7.5%, steers +2.3%). B.C. also reported a 18.9% increase in slaughter heifers and 11.2% in steer numbers; while Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic provinces reported steady to lower feeder cattle inventories.
While slaughter cattle (steers and heifers) inventories were up 1.1% (or 22,900 head) to 2.1 million head, the number of cattle on feeding operations on January 1st was fully steady with last year at 1.4 million head. The number of calves was also up slightly by 0.4% to 4 million head, which is the largest January calf inventory since 2013. Consequently, feeder and calf supply outside of feedlots was up 0.8% (or 32,000 head) to 4.1 million head.
On the dairy side, dairy cow numbers were down 0.2% to 956,900 head. Eastern Canada accounts for 77% of the national dairy cow herd. Dairy heifers were also down 0.8% to 442,400 head. This is the lowest level since recording started in 1948.
Bottom Line: The steady breeding female inventory suggests limited growth in the new calf crop. Feeder export will remain a critical factor for domestic cattle supplies.
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