Cattle farmers struggle to find affordable feed after years of drought

Prairie cattle farmers are struggling to find affordable feed for their cattle after successive years of drought have dried up pastures and sent feed prices skyrocketing.

“There’s no food to buy,” said Jeff Yorga, who operates a ranch near Flintoft, 218 kilometers southwest of Regina.

“When we follow up on an opportunity to buy something, there’s actually no stream available.”

Yorga, a second-generation herder, sold part of his herd last year after being unable to feed all the cattle over the winter. Years of drought had scorched his pastures and left little to graze for the animals.

What was left of his herd, about 300 head, was trucked east for winter feeding.

I wonder if they are ever full.– Saskatchewan. breeder Jeff Yorga

Now that his animals are back, the late, cool spring has delayed grazing on the spring pastures and forced Yorga to go back in search of other food.

“They get whatever we can scrounge to give them,” he said, explaining that this could include older straw or extra pellets.

“They have things to eat, but they don’t have much to eat. I wonder if they are ever full.”

Yorga has heard that the round bales sell for up to $275 each — nearly triple what they cost two springs ago — but even at that price, he can’t find any for sale.

“In many cases cattle are moved from grassless pasture to another grassless pasture,” he said.

“All we can do at this point is just cross our fingers for rain and hope for warmer weather.”

Janice Bruynooghe, coordinator of the Beef Cattle Research Council, said the feed shortage was a concern.

“People are really hustling,” said Bruynooghe, who operates a cattle ranch near Outlook, 90 kilometers west of Saskatoon.

“Producers are looking to the sky to see when their pastures will be ready, as there is absolutely no forage left in many parts of Western Canada.

Bruynooghe said he saw fodder prices nearly triple.

“We’ve seen those prices absolutely, exponentially explode again.”

Bruynooghe said timely rains could be a game-changer, but would not be an immediate solution.

“It takes a long time to recover.”

Yorga, vice-president of the Saskatchewan Stockgrowers Association, said he was not the only rancher forced to move cattle for the winter because they didn’t have enough feed and it was expensive.

“Very few producers will be able to do it twice,” Yorga said. “We lost a significant amount of money.”

Grain prices soar due to drought and high oil prices

Feedlots are grappling with the same shortages and price hikes as smallholders, according to Errol Anderson, president of ProMarket Communications, which trades commodities and provides market intelligence for farms and feedlots. of the prairies.

He said prices for barley, a common livestock feed, are about $10 a bushel, double what they were two years ago.

“These are awards we’ve never heard of before,” Anderson said.

A drought-related barley shortage last year forced feedlots to “haul” American corn by rail for use as feed, Anderson said.

“They really had no choice because they couldn’t rely on the barley farmer to provide enough food.”

Then the price of corn, typically a cheaper commodity, also rose 50% over the winter to $11.50 a bushel, Anderson said.

“It’s extremely high.”

He attributed the high price of maize to its use both as a fuel [ethanol] and food in the United States.

“With crude oil prices surging above $100 a barrel, this has supported ethanol and given corn a boost.”

Anderson said while cattle prices are also at a five-year high, it’s not enough for producers to make a profit with feed prices where they are.

“There is still a large amount of red ink and that’s mainly due to the cost of the power supply.”

Arnold Balicki, president of the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association, manages about 248 head of cattle on his farm north of Shellbrooke, 44 kilometers west of Prince Albert. He said the humidity in his area is better than in other parts of Saskatchewan.

He said food is also easier to find where he lives, but added that he had almost run out of his supply, which should have lasted until mid-June.

“We’re going to run out by the end of this week,” Balicki said

His goal is to keep his herd together, even if it comes at a cost.

“We all know we’re not going to make any money from this year’s calf crop.”