Industry rep says cattle fears overblown after summer drought

The federal government also offered a program encouraging ranchers to bring cattle to market early

Cam Fortems – Kamloops This Week

Fears that the summer drought would shrink B.C.’s cattle herd appear to be overblown, according to an industry representative.

Kevin Boon, general manager of the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association, acknowledged last week some Interior ranchers brought cattle to market early this summer in the wake of high feed prices and dwindling range grass due to drought.

The federal government also offered a program encouraging ranchers to bring cattle to market early in order to deal with dry conditions throughout Western Canada.

“The late rains really helped out,” Boon said, adding “some guys went to market earlier than usual to cut down on feed usage.”

Wayne Jordan, an auctioneer at B.C. Livestock Producers Co-op in Kamloops, said the cost of feed and a price spike for cattle in September brought an increased number of animals early to market.

Cattle sold at the auction here are primary shipped to Alberta feedlots before slaughter.

“All in all, the larger ranches have to wait to get off the range and we’re on schedule,” he said.

After years of declining prices in the wake of discovery of BSE disease more than a decade ago, B.C.’s herd experienced a corresponding drift downwards.

But the rapid increase in those prices, setting records annually, has not seen a corresponding growth in the overall herd.

Boon said there were concerns the summer drought would further shrink the provincial herd.

“I don’t think it will affect our numbers that much,” he said.

But uncertainty about range in the face of drought is keeping a lid on growth of the herd.

Today the number of breeding cows is between 185,000 to 190,000 provincewide.

That compares to 320,000 a decade ago.

“Things are ripe for us to grow,” Boon said, adding many ranchers, however, are investing in new machinery or other infrastructure rather than taking a risk by expanding.

While hay prices have come down from this summer, Jordan said they remain elevated enough to discourage some ranchers from keeping cattle over winter.

 

“You have to do a little soul searching as to how many animals you can keep over.”