By Jeremy Hunt

Suckled calf producers have been relieved that prices at the start of the autumn sale season haven’t been hit by the finished cattle trade.

In fact strong competition for the best calves has taken prices above last year at some sales.

Top quality calves coming forward after the prolonged good summer – and an acute awareness among buyers of fewer opportunities to source cattle of this calibre in good numbers – have helped maintain prices similar to last year for many vendors.

Auctioneer Andrew Barry of Lanark described the market’s sale of 2,000 suckled calves as “the best show of cattle we’ve had for a long time.”

“Prices were around £10 down on the year, but these cattle have done really well this summer and were weighing about 25kg heavier,” said Mr Barry.

The 1,084 bullocks at Lanark averaged 236.1p/kg and the 893 heifers averaged 227.9p/kg. Prices reached 286.1p/kg for a Limousin bullock.

“But buyers were being careful. Anything up to £1,100 was selling but up to £1,200 and it had to be something special or you hit a brick wall,” said Mr Barry.

“One vendor was down £6 on the year for 100 calves, but he was relieved it wasn’t lower. Back in the spring he was expecting prices to be back a lot further than that,” added Mr Barry.

There was keen bidding at Hexham in Northumberland: “Some calves have been dearer and some a bit cheaper but the finishers are wanting cattle and it has created a strong trade,” said a spokesman for Hexham and Northern Marts after their sale of 800 stores and suckled calves.

The 13-14-month-old stores were making £1,100-£1,200 at Hexham. “Big, strong Charolais and Limousin bullocks showed just how well these calves have summered. This was a confident start to the season.”

At Cutcombe Market, Minehead, Somerset the annual sale of 360 suckled calves produced a brisk trade according to Gethin Rees of Exmoor Farmers Livestock Auctions.

Steers averaged 244p/kg and heifers 206p/kg.” That’s very similar to last year, but the steers are up a touch. Some of the smaller calves looked the dearest and were up to 306p/kg for a 200kg Charolais calf.

“The beef job isn’t where the finishers want it to be, but most still want to fill up their yards for the winter – and this year they’ve got the chance to buy some really good calves after such a long summer,” said Mr Rees.