“It’s hard to say what would have put more dollars in their pocket.”
Three droughts in the last five years has packed a punch on the Peace region’s livestock market, says Marty Gilfillan, Grande Prairie Livestock Market Manager.
Gilfillan estimates cattle numbers at the market are down 30 per cent from its peak in 2005-06. “The cattle industry hasn’t been profitable for a few years and conditions have substantially reduced cattle numbers in the Peace,” he said.
It’s going to take some time for things to change, said Gilfillan. “If we get some years with good moisture and lots of feed, we will see numbers climb back up. Until we see some profitability and some excess feed, the cattle market in the Peace is going to be pretty flat. However, we’re still seeing a demand for good-quality cows,” he said.
The CCIA eartag traceability program is in place, and “we’re making it work,” Gilfillan said. When it was rolled out, the system was touted as market neutral.
“But a year later they added a regulation that cattle sold without a tag would be subject to a $1,500 fine. That’s added considerable legwork at the market level,” he said. “The auction market is the one stuck making sure each animal is tagged, otherwise the market has to pay the fine.” The reasons behind the traceability program are sound, but it’s far from perfect, he says. “If they could increase the retainability of the tags, that would help.”
There have been increases in slaughter cattle prices over the past few months, and with the current U. S. exchange rate, Gilfillan says he’s impressed with current cattle prices.
“I expect our butcher cow market to hold pretty stable and the demand for replacement cattle is also fairly strong,” he said. “We’ve had a few herd dispersals that sold very well.”
But he says producers have to be asking themselves if it was profitable to hang on to the animals and put four or five months of feed into them. “They have to wonder what they could have sold them and the hay for last fall,” said Gilfillan. “It’s hard to say what would have put more dollars in their pocket.”
New Sales Arena Debuts May 1 In Dawson Creek, B.C.
When Dawson Creek’s livestock market burned down in 2003, local cattle producers were faced with significant transportation costs getting livestock to market.
It would be fall 2007 before another cattle sale was held here, but stakeholders say they never looked back. The Dawson Creek Exhibition Association took possession of the property in July 2007, and the first cattle sale went that September with 1,000 head on offer. There’s been weekly sales here ever since.
Vold, Jones & Vold Auctions has been operating the auction market for the past four years out of an indoor arena. Come May 1, the first cattle sale in the new $1.5-million Northeast Regional Auction Market is much anticipated.
Blair Vold is pumped about livestock marketing in the B. C. Peace. “Since we started running auctions out of here four years ago, our numbers have just continued to increase,” said Vold. “The community and the city have been great to work with.”
With the new sales arena set to open, that optimism is well placed, he believes. “We’ve made it work just using the indoor arena, and now with the new building I expect to see even better results.” Vold says a significant portion of animals being sold in Dawson are Alberta cattle. “We’ve always had great buyer support from a large area,” he said.
Like Gilfillan, Vold sees a turnaround for cattle producers in the near future. “We’ve been through BSE and the rest of it, and we can see signs of a recovery now,” he said. “We’re seeing record prices coming back for butcher cows and bulls, and the feeder cattle market now has enough margins that producers are making money. We hope prices for calves will follow the upward trend by the fall.”
Last summer’s drought resulted in high feed costs for producers, but Vold said the current situation is “so far, so good.
“We’ve had lots of good moisture, more so than the Grande Prairie area, and it looks like a good spring for crops and grass,” he said.
But there have been a few wrinkles. “Eartag traceability has been a challenge,” said Vold. The auction mart has been working with CCIA as well as producers to “get them on track in keeping the tags and birth certificates on record.”
Today, Vold says, there are only a small number of cattle without tags, but when there are, “we’re there to do it.”
Vold said coming into the Dawson Creek market was a good business decision for his company, which also operates livestock markets in Ponoka and Stavely.
“Producers are the driving force behind our move in here and our subsequent success,” he said. “There’s some great cattle people here that we’ve dealt with for years and we felt we owed them a service to come in and reopen the market.”
Vold, Jones & Vold is also working with Northern Lights College at its Dawson Creek campus. The company struck a 15-year lease agreement with the college, and started a cow herd of 500 on the former college farm. “We’ve been restoring the farm back to its original state, and working with the college to offer programs including manure management and recycling,” said Vold.