BEEF PRODUCERS are increasingly looking to heifers to generate returns once subsidy is decoupled from production in the New Year, say auctioneers. And with no “paper money” to chase, it will be conformation and quality that drive trade in the store ring.

David Bryan Jones, of auctioneer Halls’ Bishop’s Castle market, said more farmers were becoming aware they must divorce livestock enterprises from the single farm payment.

Greater interest

“There’s greater interest in heifers as a more cost-effective way to produce beef than finishing bullocks.  Attention has shifted, and producers need to present cattle at the best standard they can.”

A recent sale of suckled calves and weanlings at Bishop’s Castle saw a 465kg Belgian Blue heifer realise 540, while five 215kg Limousin heifers achieved 325 a head. Bernie Hutchinson, auctioneer at Market Drayton in Shropshire, said many young male cattle on green cards were making less than heifers, and some major operators were looking to switch over to heifer beef production.

But he added that too many producers switching to heifers could be unwise. “Bull beef will still be wanted. Barley bulls can be turned out in 12 months, whereas the earliest heifers will be 14-15 months old.” Plainer Black-and-white types would be hard to sell, he warned. “In the past, they always found a market as people bought them for their premiums. But not any more.”