Alberta direct cattle sales saw light volume trade last week, with weighted average steer prices firming almost $2/cwt higher than the previous week. The bulk of sales were reported dressed from $320-321/cwt delivered. Feedlots continued to manage contract inventories and were generally not motivated cash traders. Heifer prices were comparable with steers, but sales were not repeatable, and a weekly market trend was not fully established. Some cattle were priced to the U.S. based on the five-area average, and a few local cattle were booked off of the deferred Canfax weighted average price. Western Canadian-fed slaughter for the week ending January 28 slipped 12% lower than the previous week to 39,199 head. Fed cattle/cow exports to the U.S. for the week of January 21 totaled 9,445 head, down 5% compared to the same week last year.
Trading $1-6/cwt higher, Alberta 550 lb steer and heifer prices set new annual highs. Over the past 18 years, 550 lb steer prices have established first half of the year highs in February six times (2005, ’06, ’13, ’16, ’18, ’20). Ontario calf prices have been disappointing relative to the Western Canadian market. Over the past five weeks, Ontario 550 lb steer prices have averaged $268/cwt, $32/cwt lower than the Alberta market. Alberta calf and feeder prices in 2023 have been at a $17-19/cwt premium against the U.S. market. Canadian feeder cattle exports to the U.S. were elevated during the first quarter of 2022, averaging 6,293 head per week.
Butcher cow and bull prices have been moving in opposite directions. Cow prices traded steady to $1/cwt higher this week, setting new annual highs, while bull prices are at annual lows. Non-fed volumes through commercial auction facilities have tightened, yet slaughter volumes continue to be elevated. Since the start of the year, Western Canadian cow slaughter has averaged more than 9,000 head/week. For the month of January this is the largest cow slaughter since 2010. Over the past five years, the average increase from fall lows to first half of the year highs stands at 38%.