DAIRY AUCTIONEERS throughout the UK describe the 2004 trade as “amazing” and “remarkable”.

But some reckon the market in 2005 will be a different story.

Despite a summer “blip” triggered by the milk quota situation, demand for all ages of pedigree and commercial dairy stock remained strong during the year.

Auctioneers admit earnings from dispersals and production sales have been beyond vendors‘ expectations. But will it last?

The 2005 dairy market could see a tighter cattle supply and at least a continuation of 2004 values, if the scant number of sales booked for next year does not pick up.

On the other hand, it could be the calm before the storm, as even more milk producers grit their teeth and prepare for a hastily arranged exit in the spring.

Genetics companies report a big increase in sales of beef semen to dairy herds, as farmers grasped the value of a good beef-bred calf at £130.

This trend is in line with the increasing popularity of flying herds as some producers off-load heifer rearing costs to finance herd expansion.

Substantial TB payouts are still coming thick and fast in the West Country.

The lower value of quota has removed the incentive to lease it out, which means compensation cash is being re-invested in cows.

Auctioneer Derek Biss, of Taunton-based Greenslade Taylor Hunt, said the 2004 trade was “beyond everyone’s dreams”.

“It was always on the edge but there was never a shortage of buyers. TB victims still want cows but the next three months will be critical for the dairy trade,” said Mr Biss.

“A lot of milk producers may decide to go in the spring.”

Average prices for newly-calved pedigree cattle at regional Holstein club sales have nudged the four-figure barrier throughout the year.

But even at Uttoxeter, which handles up to 100 head of commercial dairy cattle each week, trade has remained buoyant.

Bagshaws‘ auctioneer Meg Elliott said: “We‘ve been selling more dairy cattle and demand has been fired by the increasing number of flying herds.

“This is a purely commercial weekly market; our quality milk cows have averaged around £800 during the year as producers chased production from better cattle.”