Cattle prices fall like mad

After a stellar sale last month, the fallout from mad cow disease exploded onto the scene at the Stratton sales barn Saturday.
Prices for calves at the sale averaged only about 85¢/lb., which was well down from last year’s average of about $1.35/lb.
“If the government does not step in and offer the farmers a little help, we will lose a lot of farmers,” warned Russell Richards, the sales barn manager.
Richards said in addition to the low prices, the weight restriction on the bridge at Sioux Narrows and a low feed supply were two more nails in the farmers’ coffins.
The bridge restriction increases transportation costs for cattle going west while an impending shortage of feed for the winter will drive those costs up.
“If a cow is only worth $100, it is more expensive to feed it than it is worth,” a visibly upset Richards said Monday. “You know things are bad when it costs [money] to send [cattle] to the west.”
Richards noted an announcement was made in Manitoba last week that the U.S. border likely won’t fully reopen for seven-eight years. That sent cattle prices plummeting as speculators stopped buying like they did a month ago in Stratton.
A sale Friday in eastern Ontario only managed to get 40¢/lb. on calves.
While the sale Saturday in Stratton netted double that, it was small consolation as costs to raise the animals are more than what the farmers were getting for them.
More than 2,000 head of calves and yearlings went through the Stratton sales barn Saturday, which made it one of—if not the—largest sale ever held there.
“When I started accepting cattle, I never imagined we would get as many as we did,” said Richards.
Of those, about 1,600 were calves and another 450 were yearlings. All the calves were sold by 5 p.m., with the balance of the head up for sale sold by 10:30 p.m.
That made for a very long weekend for Richards and his crew, who worked until late Sunday night to get all the animals loaded and shipped out.
Richards noted about two-thirds of the cattle went to buyers in the east and about one-third to the west. Quite a large number of animals were sold and bought locally.
“Local demand calves got about 90¢/lb. to $1.00/lb.,” he said.
The yearlings, which a month ago sold for about $1.13/lb. on average, only fetched about 85¢/lb. on Saturday. “Those units should have moved at the last sale, but no one was sure of what BSE [mad cow disease] would do to prices then,” Richards remarked.
Now the reality has set in and Richards is concerned about the future of the cattle industry—both in Rainy River District and right across the country.
“Most farmers knew it was coming and were pleased to get what they got,” he said.
But that is little consolation to the farmers’ bottom line. If the cattle industry collapses, Richards said there will be a domino effect across the economy.
“Farming is the backbone of Canada’s economy. Without it, the effects will be devastating,” he warned.
Richards said many farmers now are just dumping their animals to avoid the high feeding costs that are coming this winter. He added the calf sale normally is the last one of the year, but they may have another one if there is enough interest.
Anyone interested in having one is asked to call him at 487-2472.