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BETTER FARMING STAFF
Released Feb. 17, the report shows the province’s beef herd numbers dropped 14.5 per cent over the numbers recorded at the same time last year. Clarification: Numbers reported earlier represent the combined totals of Ontario's beef and dairy herds. Across the country cattle inventories have also dropped with the national dairy herd falling 2.5 per cent and the national beef herd falling 5.6 per cent.
Robert Plourde, a StatsCan spokesman, says the drop in Ontario’s cattle inventory is the greatest in the province since the federal agency began its January livestock survey in 1940. “That’s really a concern in Eastern Canada because Ontario was the key player” in the industry, he says. “They had a huge number of cattle slaughterhouses but now some are in difficulty and on top of it now their cattle supply is coming way down.” The drop was far greater than those reported for beef herds in Alberta (- 3.3 per cent), Saskatchewan (- eight per cent) and Manitoba (-6.1 per cent). Combined, the four provinces account for 89 per cent of the country’s beef herd.
The report says rising feed and input costs, low prices and the introduction of mandatory country of origin legislation (COOL) in the United States have all contributed to the decline. Implemented in September, COOL requires beef, pork and some other products sold in U.S. stores to identify the country where the animal was born.
Hog and sheep inventories are also declining.
The report states national hog numbers plummeted more than 10 per cent over the past year to 12.4 million. It’s the fourth consecutive year of decline says Plourde and that’s “a new trend we’ve never seen before.”
Many of the same factors affecting beef cattle numbers are behind the hog inventory. Added to these are changes in the North American industry and last year’s Canadian cull breeding swine program that sought to decrease the national sow herd by 10 per cent.
“That’s huge,” says Al Mussell, a senior research associate with the George Morris Centre in Guelph, of the drop in Ontario’s beef cattle herd. Mussell admits surprise at the magnitude of the drop in the province’s beef cattle herd.
He is less surprised by the drop in hog numbers – in Ontario 3.1 million in 2009 from 3.65 million in 2008 – and identifies an “oversubscribed” national sow cull as well as economic distress as major factors in their decline.
Will numbers rebound?
Mussell says he won’t forecast but notes that of the two sectors the hog sector was capable of a quicker rebound because of a “biological lag” that is shorter than the beef cattle sector’s.
The report also notes that the national sheep and lamb inventory declined more than two per cent over the past year. The report is based on a December survey of 15,000 livestock producers across Canada that is combined with industry marketing data. BF