Canada and Mexico have been a source of feeder and slaughter cattle for many years. This is in addition to bilateral trade in beef, with both countries among the major markets for U.S. beef exports as well as major sources of beef imports. In 2014, U.S. imports of Canadian slaughter steers and heifers represented 1.7 percent of total U.S. steer and heifer slaughter. These yearling slaughter cattle imports were up 13.9 percent from 2013 and included a 24 percent increase in slaughter heifers compared to a 7.4 percent year over year increase in slaughter steer imports. With the latest trade data for March, year to date slaughter steer and heifer imports from Canada are down 40.6 percent from last year based on a 49.5 percent decrease in slaughter steer imports and a 27.4 percent decrease in slaughter heifer imports.
Total feeder cattle imports from Mexico and Canada in 2014 amounted to 4.8 percent of the total 2014 U.S. calf crop. This was the largest relative contribution of Canadian and Mexican feeder cattle to U.S. feeder supplies in data back to 1992. U.S. imports of feeder cattle from Canada are up 11.7 percent year over year from January to March. This follows a 37.8 percent year over year increase in Canadian feeder cattle imports in 2014. Canadian feeder imports in 2014 consisted of a 60 percent increase in feeder heifers from the previous year. However, year to date imports of Canadian feeder heifers are down 10 percent compared to the January to March period one year ago. In contrast, feeder steer imports are up 57.1 percent so far this year. The weight of Canadian feeder cattle imports is also quite different this year compared to last. For the year to date, imports of Canadian feeder cattle over 700 pounds are up 58.0 percent from last year while imports of Canadian feeder cattle less than 700 pounds are down 10.6 percent.
Virtually all U.S. imports of Mexican cattle are feeder cattle. Imports of Mexican feeder cattle are up 7.5 percent in the first three months of 2015 compared to last year. This follows a 12.8 percent annual increase in Mexican feeder imports in 2014. Similar to Canada, 2014 Mexican feeder imports included more heifers, up 23.3 percent year over year compared to a 10.4 percent increase in Mexican feeder steer imports. However, year to date in 2015, imports of Mexican feeder heifers are down 17.3 percent while steer imports are up 13.1 percent. Mexican feeder cattle are generally lighter in weight than Canadian feeder cattle with most Mexican feeders split between the 450 to 700 pound category and those under 450 pounds. Few Mexican feeder cattle imports weigh more than 700 pounds. Compared to last year, year to date imports of Mexican feeder cattle between 450 and 700 pounds are up 30.7 percent while imports of feeder cattle under 450 pounds are down 20.3 percent.
Several implications are indicated from these trade flows. First, fewer heifers are being imported from Canada and Mexico suggesting that domestic herd expansion may be beginning in 2015 in both countries. Second, fewer heifers and generally tight cattle inventories in both Mexico and Canada may limit total cattle imports additionally later in the year. Feeder cattle imports may total close to year ago levels and could end up smaller if monthly imports drop sharply later this year. Finally, imports so far this year from both Canada and Mexico have included fewer lightweight animals than is typical in each market. This suggests that imports are somewhat “front-loaded” with respect to weight, which will have some implications for total U.S feeder supplies later in the year.