By Connor Lynch
INDIAN RIVER — Quality is going to continue to define cattle auction sales this year as buyers appear to have less money to spend.
High prices engendered optimism last year in the Eastern Ontario and East-Central beef market. Indian River beef farmer Billy Elmhirst told Farmers Forum then that “now that there are dollars and cents to be made in livestock, they can go ahead and invest in a bull that’s going to add value.”
This year is a different story. “Truthfully, it doesn’t look that good,” Elmhirst said. Last year’s drought put heavy pressure on fields and curtailed hay yields, pushing prices as high as $100 for a large round bale in some areas, which led to producers culling animals they might’ve otherwise kept another year.
“There’s still the opportunity to make a living on nice cows,” said Elmhirst. But the divide is growing between high-quality and low-quality animals, he said.
But herd rebuilding is a pipe dream unless prices go up, said Foresters Falls beef farmer Keith Black. He’s expecting strong bull sales this year because cows still need to be bred. But otherwise farmers will be more focused on feeding their current herd than getting more animals, he added.
The government’s drought relief program announced last year will let beef producers defer paying taxes on their culls and might add some incentive for buying, Black added. But the main thing to watch will be the spring. If conditions look good for growing feed, that may encourage buyers to restock on animals.
Feedlot operator and cash crop farmer Arden Schneckenburger at Morrisburg said that producers earned just enough last year to make a living and this year is looking the same. Quality cattle, pre-vaccinated animals ready-to-go, are going to be the main meat moving. “Feedlots can’t afford to play with less than optimum, ready-to-go animals anymore,” he said.
Here are some of the beef auction sales coming to Eastern Ontario this year:
• March 4: Annual Bred Heifer Sale: Once again at Preston and Terry Cull’s farm in Douglas, featuring 75 Charolais bred heifers.
• March 11: Benchmark Bull Sale: Kicks off at 1:30 p.m., although they’ll have beef on a bun at noon. The sale will feature 25 Charolais bulls and 2 Simmentals.
• March 11: Source for Success Bull Sale: At the Indian River Cattle Company at Indian River. Sale will feature 10 Black Simmental bulls, 2 Red Simmental bulls, 3 Black Simmental heifers, 6 Hereford bulls and 3 heifers, 2 Angus bulls and 1 heifer, 4 Charolais bulls, and 3 Limousin bulls.
• March 22: Earley online Simmental bull and heifer sale: View at Kewood. Sale includes 12 yearling Angus and Simmental; 10 yearling Simmental and Simmental-cross heifers
• April 8: Eastern Select Bull and Females Sales: Once again at Hoards Station Sale Barn in Campbellford at 1 p.m. Includes more than 20 Charolais bulls, 4 Simmental bulls, 3 Red Angus bulls, and a few cow-calf pairs and open heifers.