History: Yards embargo at Calgary

Reprinted from the November 1951 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

By Kenneth Coppock, editor

Weather is a factor over which cattlemen have no control. With favorable weather conditions and moderate prices cattlemen can experience a prosperous year. With unfavorable weather throughout the year and despite high prices the year may result in a loss from operations.

Industry leaders in their discussion with government leaders on subjects such as marketing, transportation and income tax have never failed to point out and stress this unpredictable factor in Canadian beef cattle production.

The season to date, with the 1951-52 winter yet to be experienced, emphasizes the validity of their arguments.

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A year from now or even ten days from this writing the marketing tie-up at Calgary during the week of October 22nd will be an unpleasant memory. For what has happened at Calgary is the result of disheartening weather conditions in the Calgary trade area particularly, which has dogged the cattlemen and the farmer all summer and fall. Over these the agriculturists have had no control. What started off as a prospect for a good hay and crop year gave way because of super-abundance of rain and hail (twice normal precipitation in the Calgary area with some districts hailed as many as three times) to a year of dim prospect.

“If we would only get an Indian Summer” was the hope of all as September started. But such was not to be. The rains continued, hay bales rotted in the fields which themselves became so sodden with moisture that haying operations had to be suspended. Hay in stack became saturated and molding commenced. The straight grain farmer fared no better. Rain, cool nights and days, delayed ripening and frost was thrown in for good measure. Fields became so soft equipment could be used only with difficulty. Some mounted their binders on skids, some even hitched 4-horse teams to their tractors and with the help of the faithful horses urged their equipment through the soft spots. Soon a considerable portion of the crop which promised abundance lay in the swath. With the courage which has always characterized the western farmer they said, “We’ll get it” and started to purchase feeder stock to eat up the roughage and to have on hand when the low-grade grain which laid on the ground was threshed. But October brought no relief. Precipitation took the form of snow. Rank uncut crops went flat and still the farmer held on to and was thankful that he had livestock.

On October 15th the Calgary stockyards received only 320 head and the management thought a depression had set in and expensive improvements and additions to facilities would not be utilized. But they, like the rancher and farmer in the Calgary area, did not know the weatherman had yet another cruel blow to deliver. During that week a new wave of arctic air swept over the area bringing two feet of snow at some points and freezing temperatures day and night to all points.

One week later starting with October 22 the management of the Calgary Stockyards wondered what had hit. Trucks, released from harvest work, brought in thousands of head which the farmers, released from their harvest duties, had time to gather. They lined up for blocks waiting their turn to unload. The unloading was slower than anticipated because the livestock brand inspection service, created to protect the stock owner, called for inspection before yarding. Before the day was over and counting late Saturday and Sunday deliveries, 4,394 head of cattle and calves had been delivered. The record for a week was sometime back in 1945 when over 8,000 head came to market. The flood of cattle continued. On Tuesday a further 2,860 head were delivered and on Wednesday 1,833 head more arrived, a total including 239 carried over from the week before for three market days of 9,326 head. Commission agents and yard management worked heroically to clear the facilities.

Fortunately, no stock car shortage developed and export markets held strong. The selling services disposed of approximately 1,500 head per day but the heavy carryover convinced the management to cry “Uncle” and place an embargo upon receipts until Monday, October 29th. For the first time in 48 years the Calgary market as a “cash market every business day of the year” was closed. The weatherman had broken one record and established a new one and the cattlemen and farmers were still at his mercy.

Despite heavy receipts the supply of finished or butcher cattle was moderate and prices for that quality of stock held firm. Prices for good feeders remained strong but for plain stock the market declined from $2.00 to $3.00 per cwt. The headline in the local press stated stockmen were facing disaster. In our view so long as prices hold, the use of words such as “disaster” and “catastrophe” are unnecessary and tend only to undermine the confidence of the producer.

Growers under present circumstances should, and we are confident will, hold fast to their cattle holdings. They still are the best harvesting equipment any farmer can possess. Although the weatherman has failed so far this year to co-operate it is possible even before this column is read or at worst shortly after, that he will terminate his sabotage and co-operate to the end that the abundance of feed which lies on the ground in the large Calgary area may yet be available to produce that quality beef which, it is our guess, will be in short supply next spring.

The public which consumes the beef product and those in government who have the responsibility of framing policies for the cattle industry should not overlook the great impact of unfavorable weather upon this important industry and in their thinking and their administration consider it carefully and give it the importance it should always receive. c

Our History is curated by Gren Winslow. For more of the past from the pages of our magazine see the History section at www.canadiancattlemen.ca.

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