24 May 1996

B&W calves likely to fall even further

By Tim Relf

BLACK-AND-WHITE calf prices can only go one way, it seems – downward.

Average prices, at less than £70 in the seven days to May 15, are already under half their level a year ago. And early markets this week show no sign of improvement.

Proposed changes to the slaughter scheme, allowing calves up to 21 days old to be included, could take the edge off competition for stock. Marketings are also likely to increase seasonally, putting further downward pressure on values.

A three-tier trade exists at the moment in many marts:

&#8226 Calves between seven and 10 days old, eligible for the slaughter scheme, which are making between £60 and £85.

&#8226 Average-quality calves over this age, making from £20 to £60, depending on demand.

&#8226 The best animals, at up to £90, many of which are destined for bull beef units.

Steadier trade

Continentals, meanwhile, have been a steadier trade. Average Charolais prices, for example, rarely strayed far from the £180 to £190 range throughout April.

"But Belgian Blues, which traditionally relied heavily on export demand, are making from £80 to £100 less than before the export ban," says John Bundy, auctioneer at Salisbury.

Demand from home-rearers has increased as prices have fallen, says auctioneer John Pullin at Gloucester. And this may have partly been for Friesians at the expense of Continental, he suggests.

"A reasonable Friesian can be picked up for between £80 and £100, while the Continentals are still topping £200. It can be finished within 30 months and there is the guaranteed beef special premium subsidy, too."

Keith Rose, who sells at Northampton, agrees. But the depressed finished prices and the shortage of grass is reason for caution, he suggests.

The number of buyers will also decrease as hay-making and harvesting gets under way, he adds.

So farmers should take full advantage of the slaughter scheme. But like other auctioneers, he says the current tight age requirements – and farmers aversion to the scheme – has prevented it being fully utilised.

Meanwhile at Market Drayton, Shropshire, auctioneer Ken Pritchard says one anomaly of the slaughter scheme is that calves that are strong enough to go into rearing sheds are being killed, while weaker calves, that miss the seven- to 10-day age window, are being retained for fattening.

"If the age limit is raised, prices will fall," says Mr Pritchard. "But the scheme will continue to put a bottom in the market." &#42