Higher beef prices helping ranchers recoup some of the losses from wildfires

By Chad Klassen
October 31, 2017 - 5:30pm

KAMLOOPS — Nearly two months after the province dropped the State of Emergency around the B.C. wildfires, ranchers are still recovering. 

In total, 1.2 million hectares burned — the most in the province's history — and much of the burnt out areas was grassland, leaving ranchers scrambling for feed while some had to move cattle their out of danger.  

"We didn't have any feed," said rancher Clint Ellis, who owns two ranches west of Williams Lake. "We had to truck some feed in. We had to use our hay pasture that would normally make our winter crop for our cows. We had to put our cows on there, because there was nothing left for them to eat."

Ellis was busy buying up cattle at Tuesday's auction in Kamloops, looking for young heifers and steer. He is a cattle broker, buying for other ranchers, as well as his own cattle company that has herd of about 900 head. 

That is where the plateau complex fire wreaked havoc this summer and forced Ellis, his wife, and newborn baby to evacuate.

"When the wildfire situation happened July 7-8, we had to move about 250 of our main cow herd up to our upper range because it was on fire," said Ellis. 

He didn't lose any of his herd — at least that he knows of — but he lost feed as grasslands burned, as well as fencing. The B.C. Cattlemen's Association is still in the process of counting up the potential losses. 

"Right now, the big thing are the fences that have been lost that we're learning, and the loss of feed," said GM of the B.C. Cattlemen's Association Kevin Boon. "We're putting together tallies. Most of the guys are bringing in the required feed quite successfully, so that's moving along well."

Boon said loss of cattle won't be fully known until December. 

"I'd say 3-4 weeks we'll start to get to assess on what's missing at least," he noted. "Some of the guys might be missing 30 per cent of their herd right now, but that doesn't mean they're dead. It just means they're somewhere in front of that fire and hopefully safe and will come home, probably when the snow flies." 

For his part, Ellis is relieved there is government help coming. He and other ranchers in the interior have already submitted paperwork for support through the AgriRecovery program that will cover 70 per cent of costs for private fencing, feed, and more. In total, both the provincial and federal governments have committed $20 million for any affected ranchers. 

"It's going to be in the tens of thousands of dollars just for one small entity," said Ellis. "When you talk province-wide, it'll be definitely in the tens of millions for sure."

Ellis is also thankful beef prices are up this year — in some cases up to 70 cents a pound on some cattle — making up for some of the losses. 

"Here we are today in Kamloops and a good 500-pound steer calf will bring in $2.30, maybe up to $2.40 a pound. Thank goodness the market's good for the ranchers for this year on their calf crop."

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