Canadian cattle herd continues decline

Beef replacement down 6% from 2023
calendar icon 8 April 2024
clock icon 2 minute read

The Canadian cattle herd continues its sustained trend of contraction, with numbers at their lowest level since 1989, according to a recent US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) report.

Statistics Canada’s January 1, 2024 herd inventory numbers showed beginning stocks down 240,000 head compared to January 1, 2023. 

These beginning stocks are 25,000 head below the original FAS/Ottawa forecast. Beginning beef cattle stocks are down 83,000 head compared to 2023 beginning stocks, a smaller downward revision than forecast. 

Persistent drought conditions continued to support decreased heifer retention and increased cow slaughter through 2023.

January 1 numbers for heifer retention for beef replacement are down 6% compared to 2023. 

With the ongoing contraction of the cattle herd, cow-calf producers are seeing better returns, however, it remains to be seen if producers will take these signals and begin a herd re-build in 2024. 

Drought remains a concern and consequently feed availability. Additionally, producers may take stronger pricing as a signal to sell off rather than grow their herds. 

This is especially likely amongst aging producers who may not have succession plans and may see this as an opportune time to exit the industry. 

Industry will need to assess the balance of tighter feeder supplies which will support higher prices that may reduce heifer retention with the need to increase heifer retention if the Canadian cattle herd is too slow or reverse the ongoing trend of contraction.

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