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Review of 2016 Cattle and Beef Production

This analysis is based on the year end report of the AAFC weekly report called Beef Supply at a Glance plus the annual report on provincially inspected slaughter. The table and charts that I have created accompany this analysis.

The national breeding herd did not increase in 2016. The January 1, 2016 number was almost identical to the January 1, 2015 number. The July 1, 2016 number showed a negligible 12,000 head increase, well within the sampling error range. So, when one considers that total heifer slaughter in 2016 was 9% higher and total cow slaughter was 1.7% higher, there is no possibility that the herd grew in 2016. Total cow slaughter in 2016, domestic plus exported, totaled 604,000 head compared to 574,000 in 2015. Inasmuch as dairy cow culling rates are rather steady from year to year there is no indication that there has been a reduced beef cow culling rate. The beef cow culling rate remains in the low range at between 9 and 10 %.

One cannot be quite as precise concerning heifer slaughter since Beef Supply at a Glance does not differentiate sex in exported fed cattle slaughter. Somewhat later data on the sex of exports may be available from US sources. So, if one assumes for the present that heifers exported for slaughter were exported in the same ratio as existed in the domestic slaughter, then total heifer slaughter in 2016 was almost 10% higher 2015. However, in recent years slaughter heifers have been more numerous than steers in the export mix so the above estimate may well understate heifer slaughter in both years. That, coupled with a 1.7% increase in cow slaughter confirms that the Jan. 1 2017 cow herd will be smaller than it was a year ago.

Steer slaughter was also higher, both in the domestic slaughter and on export. The increase was about 140,000 head or 9% higher than in 2015. This is difficult to explain given the static to declining cow herd. A partial explanation might be an increase in the number of dairy and dairy cross steers in the slaughter mix but this has been disputed. Another partial explanation is that there may indeed have been more heifers than steers in the export mix, as previously suggested. If that is the case the breeding herd will have lost even more replacement heifers. Finally, an increase in steer supplies could be the result of improved reproductive performance and or lower death losses between birth and market.

The increase in Fed Slaughter numbers (9%) and an increase in Average Carcass Weights (3%) has led to a 6.5% increase in Tonnage.

All of these figures are based on federally inspected slaughter. In 2016 provincially inspected slaughter accounted for 5.6% of total domestic slaughter so Total Productive Capacity was 925,600 metric tonnes compared to 869,100 tonnes in 2015. This tonnage is expressed on a retail weight basis.

A retail weight basis is used for two reasons. First, it is the basis that is closest to actual consumption and also most exports and imports now occur in a form that is much closer to a retail than to a carcass basis. If one wishes to know the tonnage on a carcass weight basis one merely divides the productive capacity by 0.73, the figure used to convert carcass weights to retail weights.

Chart 1 shows the distribution of Canadian beef output in 2016 and continues to underline the major export orientation or dependency of the industry. Exports to the USA occurs as live slaughter cattle (16% of total output), as beef (28% of total output) and as feeder cattle (5% of total output). Roughly half of the final weight of exported feeder cattle was produced in Canada so one should perhaps acknowledge that only about 2.5% of productive capacity was exported in the form of feeder cattle. Nonetheless, total exports to the USA accounted for at least 46% of total output while domestic disappearance or consumption accounted for 41% of total output. 2% of production was exported as beef to Mexico and 8% to the world beyond North America.

Chart 2 reveals that about 68% of Canadian beef consumption in 2016 was from domestic production and the remaining 32% was beef imported from the USA (21%) or from offshore (11%).

Since herd growth is not yet apparent it is now probable that increased supplies fed cattle cannot now be expected before 2019 at the earliest.

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