Peter Huntley (Phillips Livestock)
IF youre planning to sell suckled calves this autumn, dont despair at the prospects for heifer prices.
So says Peter Huntley, who thinks some improvement may be seen for these animals compared with last year.
Cutcombes auction last month, one of the first early-autumn offerings, saw steer and heifer calves average £498 and £300 respectively.
"The big differential resulted from the subsidy payment available on male animals and the premium they can make when sold finished," says Mr Huntley. Theres little scope for any increase in steer values.
"But confidence is growing in heifers, as more are offered with age documentation.
"People have got the message about the importance of Cattle Birth Record Documents – and where heifers have these, this often adds £25 or more to their price."
Many of the entries for Cutcombes coming sales in October and November for the Exmoor Suckled Calf Rearers Association will have been born this spring. As such, they will carry the passports, compulsory for cattle born after July 1996.
"Everyone is conscious of the 30-month age limit on beef entering the food chain, although it probably affects trade for older store animals most.
"Key to the value of calves this autumn will be their quality and its weight. A heifer that is, say, 280kg is probably slightly more saleable than one that is 220kg, because the buyer had got a bit more of a head-start.
"Smaller ones are, however, in more demand than a year ago. Back then, just six months after the BSE revelations hit the headlines, any whisper in the newspapers had an immediate affect on the finished cattle trade, and with it the prices of calves and stores.
"Early signs are that this autumns values are up about £30 or £40/head on then."
Recent months have also seen the second-quality animals become easier to sell as interest has picked up, says Mr Huntley. And with heifers costing less than steers to begin with, there will always be buyers looking specifically for them. "It depends on peoples production systems – some, for example, will take them through the winter and finish them next winter at about 22-months-old."
The subsidy payments on male animals, meanwhile, remain a key determinant of value.
Last months auction saw 330kg steers on blue CIDs make £450, while another of the same weight on a green card – and with another payment due – went for £540.
"Another key requirement of buyers will be consistency. People want to buy bunches of cattle that can be housed, fed and treated similarly and, hopefully, finish at the same time."
Many of the vendors at Cutcombe are selling their entire crop of spring-born calves. Many are Charolais crosses, out of Hereford cross Friesian cows.
"This is why prices in the autumn are so vital, because many farmers systems arent geared to holding on to the calves any longer. Housing might be occupied in the winter with the suckler cows and the sheep."n
Steer prices are unlikely to be higher than last year but heifers could be worth more, says Peter Huntley.
Farmers are gearing up for this autumns big suckled calf sales.