Meat processing backlog puts strain on Alberta cattle ranchers

Feeding costs, space to house cattle and optimum weight are among the concerns


Pamela Fieber, CBC News (Canada)

Jun 29, 2020


A backlog of cattle waiting to be processed at meatpacking plants has put Alberta cattle ranchers in a tough position.


Too many cows mean more mouths to feed, and meat that is aging past its prime.


"We've got a backlog of cattle right around 120,000 to 130,000 head here," Kelly Smith-Fraser, chair of the Alberta Beef Producers, told the Calgary Eyeopener.


"Those animals aren't being moved through the system. They aren't being processed. They're still in the pens that they've been living in for a while, and we really need to see them moving out and having the plants operating at full capacity."


Smith-Fraser said the backlog needs to be cleared before fall.


"By then, we're going to be needing that pen space again," she said.


"The calves that are running around on the pastures right now with their mommas, those calves are going to be weaned and they're going to need a home to go to. So we need to be able to be rotating these pens through so that we have the space."


Smith-Fraser, who raises cattle near Red Deer, said most people outside the industry don't understand the importance of timing.


"It's really important, we definitely have planned for those animals to get to market at their optimum weight," she said. "And typically with their optimum weight also comes the grading, so your Triple A steaks. But the longer those animals have to be carried over and held over on feed, they're gaining more weight, and the carcass quality will diminish."


The reduced quality also means a reduced price for the beef.


"Just as we all see at the supermarket a difference between the price of Triple-A beef and Double-A beef, our ranchers also get that diminished price as well," she said.


There is a backlog at meatpacking plants following the temporary shutdowns and reduction in operations due to COVID outbreaks.


The Cargill plant in High River has been operating at reduced capacity after being shut down completely for two weeks, while the JBS Canada plant in Brooks was under reduced capacity for a month.


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