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“Alberta beef producers retained fewer breeding heifers for replacement in 2022, suggesting expansion is not in the immediate future,” says Ann Boyda, livestock economist with the Alberta government. “The Canfax Cattle on Feed reports show a 9.4% increase in heifer placement in feedlots in 2022 compared to 2021. Heifer placements were higher in the first half of 2022 and declined by 3% in the second half. The rate of heifer to steer placement increased to 37.5% in 2022 as compared to 33.1% in 2021. Steer placement declined by 10.2% in 2022 as compared to 2021.”
Alberta auction feeder steer and heifer volume for 2022 was 638,769 head, down 9% from 2021 and down 26.1% from the 5-year average. The first 3 weeks of 2023 report volumes down 13.4% over the same period last year.
According to the Canadian Beef Grading Agency, slaughter volume for 2022 in federally regulated plants was 2,641,249 head in Western Canada, comparable to 2021 levels (down 0.04%). The 2022 slaughter level is 8.5 % higher than the 5-year average (2017 to 2021).
Heifer slaughter volume in 2022 rose by 6.9% over 2021 and nearly 15% over the 5-year average, whereas steer slaughter volume dropped by 5.8% when compared to 2021. Cow slaughter also increased in 2022 by 4.8% over 2021, however this level was comparable to the 5-year average (up 0.9%).
Chart 1. West Slaughter in Federally Inspected Plants
Agriculture Canada estimates beef output in Western Canada for 2022 at 1,028,580 tonnes, up 2% from 2021. The strong performance stems from good packer margins and strong beef demand.
Livestock Identification Services reports 485,544 cattle leaving Alberta in 2022. The majority, 328,911 were destined to the U.S., 294,078 head of which went direct to slaughter. Slaughter cattle sales to the U.S. were up by 21.2% over 2021 levels.
Chart 2. Alberta Interprovincial and U.S. Exports of Cattle in 2022
“With one month left for recorded data, 2022 will fall short of the volume in 2021,” points out Boyda. “Agri-Food Trade On-Line database indicates that live cattle imports were highest in 2021 at over 234,919 head (excluding purebred cattle), 61.7% greater than the 5-year average of 145,294 head.”
Total cattle imports to Alberta from the U.S., British Columbia and Saskatchewan reached 1,240,768 head in 2021. Preliminary estimates for 2022 suggest that total cattle imports will be down from 2021 by as much as 8%. Alberta’s feedlot capacity draws feeder steers and heifers from Saskatchewan.
“2022 year started with a backlog on cattle stemming from the heights of COVID. The industry is still feeling its repercussions. January and February are typically seasonally lower demand for beef and most signs point to a smaller calf crop in 2023,” says Boyda.
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