12 April 1996

B&W bull calves down on norm

WITH prices depressed following the BSE scare, black-and-white bull calves are being retained on-farm.

Early markets this week show average values around the £45-mark, similar to last week. This represents a fall of £40 on mid-March levels, however.

Entries are about half what might be expected at Northampton, according to auctioneer Keith Rose. "Bull calves are being kept back to allow a claim of beef special premium payment. Some may be kept until they are finished, he adds.

"But those that have been forward have been selling surprisingly well."

Last Saturday, black-and-whites levelled about £50, with the best changing hands at £80. Meanwhile, the top-notch Simmentals, Limousins and Charolais calves are selling between £220 and £260.

The export trade has disappeared – and with it so has the demand for young, fresh black-and-white bulls, says auctioneer John Pullin at Gloucester.

Farmers, therefore, should keep these animals for an extra few weeks, give them some extra condition, and make them more attractive to home-rearer buyers, he says.

"We would be expecting a total weekly entry of 500 calves at this time of year," points out Mr Pullin. "Last Monday, there were about 300.

"Vendors realise that calves are worth less now than before the BSE scare and are being more realistic in their expectations."

But some farmers are still expecting too high prices, suggests Chris Jones at Ludlow, Shropshire.

Finished and store cattle are making less money – and so people should be prepared to take less for calves, too, he says.

Some people, anticipating a slaughter and compensation policy, have temporarily postponed marketings. While such a scheme would prop up the calf trade, it would not help store and finished cattle prices, points out Mr Jones.

Were we at the end of the quota year, farmers may be more prepared to keep calves to utilise excess milk. "Now, however, they would rather sell the milk."

At Salisbury, Wilts, meanwhile, auctioneer John Bundy points out that, while Continental calves continue to sell well, prices of Belgian Blues have fallen.

Demand for Belgian Blues has traditionally been strongly export led, so prices have now come back to levels similar to those of Continental calves.

Friesians are making about £50 less than prior to the BSE publicity and export ban. &#42