A new initiative between processor St Merryn Meats and dairy co-op Milk Link will offer the co-op’s members a dedicated collection and payment system for redundant dairy cows.

The scheme, being piloted among 400 Milk Link members in Cornwall, will collect cows from farms on set days and give the processor a consistent source of lean cow beef, mainly for manufacturing and value mince ranges at Tesco, its main customer.

A spokesman for Milk Link said the pilot venture would handle about 10,000 head and, if successful, would be rolled out to the co-op’s 2300 members.

John Dracup, procurement director at St Merryn Meats, said the scheme would pay dairy farmers a competitive deadweight price based on the processor’s EUROP grading system.

“This will offer savings in time, haulage and auctioneers’ commission.

We wanted to streamline the marketing of cull cows.”

Despite industry preference for well-finished, aged suckler cows, there was a valuable market for leaner dairy types, he added.

Not all dairy co-ops had such a scheme in place, but a spokesman for First Milk said members could sell both cows and dairy bull calves to livestock marketing company Meadow Quality through its buying group First Milk Direct.

But Chris Dodds, secretary of the Livestock Auctioneers Association, reckoned plainer dairy sorts still had a home in the auction ring.

“And there are many feeders looking for leaner cows, particularly as spring and summer grazing starts.”

Price comparison

Abattoirs used different grading systems to determine carcass price, and different deduction structures, so it was almost impossible to make a meaningful deadweight price comparison, Mr Dodds said.

“We have seen cull cows get dearer by about 30% in the past two months, and with the export market about to reopen its likely this demand will continue.”

As Farmers Weekly went to press, average liveweight prices for dairy-bred cull cows had risen about 3p on the week to 68.2p/kg.

The English Beef and Lamb Executive and the Livestock Auctioneers Association have produced a grading scheme to help farmers assess older cows against slaughterers’ needs.

Average prices for each grade were not available as Farmers Weekly went to press, but some marts had begun reporting the new grades.

Ludlow market in Shropshire sold 45 head on Monday, 24 April, with Grade 1 (well-fleshed, even fat cover) cows averaging 95.8p/kg liveweight, Grade 2 (average to good quality carcass) 73.9p/kg, Grade 3 (manufacturing or “steaker” cow) 64.3p/kg and Grade 4 (under-finished or over-fat, lacking flesh) 56.8p/kg.

ian.ashbridge@rbi.co.uk