Western Canadian feeder cattle prices were trading $5-$10 below week-ago levels on average last week. Fully weaned vaccinated calves were trading down $5-$8 while semi-weaned bawlers were down a solid $10. Shorter-keep replacements over 850 lbs. were down $8-$12 depending on flesh levels but harder-looking cattle were down sharply, as much as $15.
Extremely cold temperatures plagued much of the Prairies, which also subdued buying interest, especially in non-major feeding regions. U.S. buyers stepped forward sporadically on quality light-weight feeders; however, major operations were avoiding risk on the lighter calves with scale-down orders. Demand for grassers was non-existent this week due to the colder temperatures.
Larger-frame medium-flesh Charolais-cross steers averaging just over 900 lbs. sold for $198 in central Alberta. Feeder prices were quite variable across the Prairies for similar quality cattle after limited fed cattle trade developed. Order buyers were shopping aggressively for business; at times the market was firm but there were only two or three buyers surfacing. Mixed steer groups averaging 720-730 lbs. were quoted in the range from $220 to $230 in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Angus-based steers averaging 625 lbs. were quoted at $260 in southern Alberta; heifers appeared to be under more pressure, with 620-lb. mixed heifers quoted at $220 in the Lethbridge area.
Feedlot operators were on the defensive as margins deteriorated in both nearby and deferred positions. Alberta packer bids were hovering near $167, down $10 from earlier in February, and the deferred live cattle futures gradually declined throughout the week. It appears replacements for July and August marketings need to be about $10 below current levels to be profitable. Barley prices edged higher to $214 per tonne delivered in the Lethbridge area; feedlots are also factoring in a bullish scenario for barley prices over the next few months.
Certain financial analysts see the U.S. greenback as bound for repositioning against other major currencies. There could be some surprising activity on the Canadian dollar (strengthening) if these forecasts come to fruition — and commercial feedlots were factoring this into feeder cattle bids.
— Jerry Klassen is manager of the Canadian office for Swiss-based grain trader GAP SA Grains and Produits. He is also president and founder of Resilient Capital, which specializes in proprietary commodity futures trading and commodity market analysis. Jerry owns farmland in Manitoba and Saskatchewan but grew up on a mixed farm/feedlot operation in southern Alberta, which keeps him close to the grassroots level of grain and cattle production. Jerry is a graduate of the University of Alberta. He can be reached at 204-504-8339.