Beef Market Update: Shining a light on first of the year inventory

Gelbvieh cattle graze the pasture in the winter near, Ponteix, Saskatchewan on Nov. 27, 2018. (Tara Davidson/Lonesome Dove Ranch)

It’s time for another Beef Market Update, and since StatsCan recently released the January 1 numbers, we’re going to focus on inventory today.

Anne Wasko of the Gateway Livestock Exchange says that there wasn’t really anything of surprise in the numbers, as the pattern of a contracting beef cow herd in Canada continues.

“We did see StatsCan go back and make some prior year revisions lower, but when the dust all settles with those revisions taken into account, those January 2021 cow herd was 3.53 million head, unchanged from last year,” explains Wasko. “But here’s the kicker. You just go back to 2019 — two years ago — and it’s four per cent smaller. So we just continue to chip away at this herd, and basically, the story is similar across Canada.”

If you look at the total cattle on farms — we had 11.2 million cows on farms across Canada. That is actually down 25.3 per cent below the January 1 peak reached in 2005, and as host Shaun Haney notes, that’s substantial. Although, as Wasko notes, she is always nervous to compare numbers back to 2005 because it was the post-BSE era, where “normal” wasn’t really a thing.

The smaller cow herd also makes sense, because there are also fewer farms raising cattle. As of January 1, 2021, the number is 71, 334 farms reporting inventories of cattle — down 1.8 per cent. So the story isn’t necessarily just about the shrinking herd — it’s also about less people doing it.

“I think we’ve seen that across both livestock and the grain sector in terms of fewer of, and getting larger of. So we don’t see that data necessarily with this report that comes from the census. But what we have seen is that yes, there are certainly fewer livestock operations as well but generally speaking, the average size is getting larger as well. So there’s definitely contraction and consolidation,” she says.

Check out the full Beef Market Update, below:

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