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Cattle estimates as of July 1, 2007

Canada’s national cattle herd declined for the second consecutive year as the breeding herd fell in most provinces, according to the annual July Livestock Survey of 16,000 producers.

As of July 1, 2007, cattlemen reported 15.9 million head on their farms, down 0.7% from the same date in 2006.

This level was 5.9% below the record 16.9 million head set in 2005 when producers held back thousands of animals from the marketplace following the BSE-related closure of the border to the American market. The American border was reopened to live cattle under 30 months of age on July 18, 2005.

In Alberta, the largest cattle producing province, the herd rose 2.7% between July 1, 2006 and July 1, 2007. This was due to greater demand for steers and heifers among feedlot operators.

The survey also showed year-over-year declines in both hog and sheep inventories. As of July 1, 2007, farmers reported 1.1 million sheep on their farms, down 4.8%, and 14.7 million hogs, down 2.5%.

Data for this release have been adjusted to align with Census of Agriculture data, released on May 16, 2007.

Census data showed that in the case of both cattle and hogs, the number of producers is on the decline, but the size of the average operation is rising. The cattle industry is not dominated by any one particular size of farm as large numbers of cattle can be found on small, medium and large operations.

Livestock inventories at July 1
  Cattle Hogs Sheep
2006 2007  2006 2007 2006 2007
  thousands of head
Canada 16,000 15,885 15,065 14,693 1,151 1,096
Atlantic 292 292 325 299 41 43
Quebec 1,425 1,395 4,250 4,120 307 295
Ontario 2,033 1,954 3,930 3,830 311 305
Manitoba 1,680 1,540 2,980 2,965 69 70
Saskatchewan 3,450 3,430 1,389 1,360 133 120
Alberta 6,300 6,470 2,056 1,990 228 205
British Columbia 820 805 135 129 63 58
Figures may not add up to totals because of rounding.
Chart 1 Canadian inventories decline

Cattle herd declines in all regions except Alberta

The increase in Alberta’s cattle herd between July 1, 2006 and July 1, 2007, was offset by declines in other provinces.

Decreases ranged from 8.3% in Manitoba, 0.6% in Saskatchewan, and 1.8% in British Columbia to a 2.1% drop in Quebec and 3.9% in Ontario.

The Prairie provinces play a significant role in the cattle industry. As of July 1, 2007, they accounted for 72% of the nation’s cattle herd. Alberta, Canada’s largest cattle producing province, accounted for nearly 41% itself.

Domestic slaughter levels have also been a key factor in the cattle business. During 2004 and the first half of 2005, levels hit record highs. They were fuelled by increased slaughter capacity, domestic demand, strong international demand for Canadian beef along with lower levels of beef imports.

However, domestic slaughter has tapered off in the wake of lower exports of beef meat, particularly now that the border with the United States is open to shipments of live cattle. Slaughter in the year up to July 1, 2007, was down 3.5% from the previous 12 months.

In addition, cattle prices remained low during the second half of 2006. Prices as of December 2006 amounted to 82% of prices experienced during December 2002, before the ban was imposed.

Although cattle prices gained lost ground during the first three months of 2007, feed grain prices rose rapidly at the same time. With higher costs for feed grains, downward pressure was put on prices that feedlots were willing to pay for feeder cattle.

Fewer cattle producers, but larger operations

Although census data showed fewer cattle producers, the size of the average cattle operation was on the rise. In 2001, the average cattle producer had 127 head of cattle; by 2006, this average had hit 144.

The 2006 Census enumerated 109,901 census farms reporting cattle, down from 122,066 in 2001, a 10.0% decline. This is partially the result of the impact of the BSE-related events.

The number of producers reporting cattle fell in every province. The largest drop occurred in Ontario, where the census counted 25,040 reporting cattle, down 11.2% from 2001.

In Manitoba, 10,217 producers reported cattle, down 9.8%. In Saskatchewan, 21,007 producers remained active, down 6.9%, the smallest rate of decline in the country. Alberta had 28,751, down 9.5%, while the number in British Columbia declined 9.4% to 6,996.

In the beef sector, declines provincially ranged from 4.6% to 9.6%. In the dairy sector, decreases were stronger, ranging from 11.5% to 37.7%.

Chart 2 Size of average cattle operation in Canada