Canada’s Cattle On Feed Begin Seasonal Decline Early

It looks like Canada’s feedlots are beginning their seasonal decline in cattle populations a month early, forgoing a seasonal bump in April 1 inventories.

The report of the number of cattle on feed in Canada is put out by the private market advisory firm CanFax, and the data for the total number on feed along with the number of placements in Alberta and Saskatchewan are compiled by the Livestock Marketing Information Center in Denver.

The data show that Canada’s feedlots held 1.018 million head on April 1, down 58,000, or 5.39%, from March’s 1.076 million.  In fact, Canada’s feedlot population has declined every month this year but still was above the April 1, 2019, total of 1.010 million by 8,000, or 0.79%.

The 2014-2018 average monthly number of cattle on feed in Canada starts the year below the Dec. 1 total and hits a seasonal low in February.  From there, it bounces to a seasonal high on April 1 before declining to the annual low on Sep. 1.

And given the sharp contrasts in seasons in Canada, that pattern can’t change much from year to year, so it’s noteworthy when something interrupts it.  This year’s counterseasonal decline in the number of cattle on feed may be linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A market analyst said the number of cattle on feed in the US also dropped as of April 1, and both were linked to lower placements in March.

Fed cattle prices have dropped sharply as packers have been forced to idle slaughter and processing plants because so many of their employees have come down with the virus, the analyst said.  Similar employee problems may be plaguing Canada’s plants, and many of Canada’s fat cattle come to the US for slaughter and processing.

All of that could result in a lower incentive to place cattle on feed in Canada just as it has in the US, the analyst said.




Canada’s feedlot placements in March defied seasonal tendencies and held near steady with January and February, the CanFax data showed.  Placements of calves into feedlots there in March totaled 118,659 head, down 3,666, or 3.00%, from the February total of 122,325 but 56,793, or 32.4%, below last year’s 175,452 and down 55,527, or 31.9%, from the previous five-year average of 174,186.

Typically, March placements are the high point of the season, fall away until the annual low in July.  If placements don’t make a counter-seasonal move by then, the 2020 total feedlot placements may make a record low, the analyst said.

Unplaced calves will remain on pasture for as long as possible, the analyst said.  They will then be placed at heavier weights than would otherwise have been the case, making for larger fed cattle when they exit the feedlot.




Cash cattle trade last week ranged from $95 to $105 per cwt on a live basis, steady to down $10 from the previous week.  Dressed-basis trade took place at $148 to $160 per cwt, down $2 to $8.

The USDA choice cutout Monday was up $18.47 per cwt at $311.84, while select was up $19.76 at $298.78.  The choice/select spread narrowed to $13.06 from $14.35 with 73 loads of fabricated product sold into the spot market.

There were 30 steer and no heifer contracts tendered for delivery against the Apr futures contract on Monday.

The CME Feeder Cattle index for the seven days ended Friday was $119.72 per cwt, up $0.24.  This compares with Monday’s Apr contract settlement of $120.40, up $0.60 and the May contract settlement of $118.15, up $0.70.