6 December 1996

Beef calves not all for the chop

EARLY indications show few beef-bred calves going into the widened calf slaughter scheme.

Last Sunday (Dec 1) saw eligibility extended from dairy breeds to all bulls up to 20 days old.

But demand from rearers has risen recently, meaning the majority of beef types are worth more on the open market than in the scheme. The December slaughter compensation is £128, falling to £121 from Jan 1.

"Had this been available a month ago, when prices were lower, its uptake would have been greater," says auctioneer Charles Matthews at Sturminster Newton, Dorset.

"But now most good Continental bulls can make £200, with Mondays top spot claimed by a Belgian Blue at £283."

Of the 270 beef sorts forwarded at the mart that day, only about 20 were destined to be slaughtered. These were small, premature, or possibly twin calves, which made about £120.

The scheme has, however, put a bottom in the market. And in doing so, it has helped heifer prices which, says Mr Matthews, still look good value compared with males.

On the same day at Chelford, Cheshire, about 10% of eligible beef sorts went into the scheme. Of the 40 Charolais bulls, which averaged £198, only one was destined for slaughter.

"Prices have been way above the scheme level for over three weeks," notes auctioneer Roy Waller.

Similarly at Gloucester, auctioneer John Pullin saw less than 10 of the 300-plus eligible beef-bred sorts destined for the scheme.

With 23 Charolais, for example, topping the £200-mark, the trade is again approaching last years high point, he says.

And this recent upturn in demand for rearing has diverted some interest back to black-and-whites. Just recently a few have found buyers on the open market outside the scheme and escaped slaughter.

But the vast majority of dairy- bred bulls continue to be killed, worth £103. This compensation will fall to £97 on Jan 1.