Fears are growing for dairy-bred calf values after reports that Dutch importers have refused to take further shipments from Britain after bovine TB was believed to have been found in imported calves.

There are reports of some shipments being cancelled and traders fear the loss of a crucial export market for black-and-white bull calves could cause domestic prices to collapse.

With many dairy herds close to starting calving, there are concerns that a price fall would lead to dairy farmers destroying large numbers of calves rather than rearing them.

Kim-Marie Haywood, director of the National Beef Association, said this could lead to an even more acute shortage of beef next year. “We’re getting conflicting reports of some shipments going ahead, but also some that no calves will be accepted after this week.”

She said the loss of Dutch and Belgian export markets, if confirmed, could cause black-and-white bull calf prices to “plummet”. “We’re extremely concerned. A profitable export market provides valuable income for dairy farmers and quality calves for a desperately short beef supply chain.”

Huw Evans, auctioneer at Carmarthen livestock mart in South Wales, said he feared the loss of Dutch business would force him to cancel the mart’s fortnightly sale of export calves. “We could see calves fall to less than £10 a head. At the moment they’re averaging £40-£50 a head with up to £80 for the very best. It’s pretty serious, pparticularly for the bigger outfits that are autumn-calving.”

Livestock auctioneer Andrew Wallace of Wright Manley had recently started to resurrect an assembly for export calves. “These calves need to be worth £50-60 a head for farmers to justify looking after them.” Holstein-bred black-and-white bulls were likely to be worst affected, he said. “Friesian bulls with a bit of shape could continue to sell well, as some people are moving away from more expensive Hereford or Continental-cross bull calves.”

But Greg Mowbray of livestock marketing group Meadow Quality, which markets more than 35,000 calves a year, said his firm had successfully shipped more than 100 calves on Tuesday (July 15). He said he was hopeful that other potential export markets could provide some relief.

* See News page 6 for more on TB