By Simon Wragg

A DROP in the value of dairy-bred bull calves suggests demand has tailed off.

But that is not the case, say auctioneers.

Stock prepared for the market is still attracting rearers attention, though plainer sorts fail to cover costs.

A fortnight ago market reports suggested Friesian X bull calves were averaging over 31 a head, but the current figure is nearly half that.

However, it seems higher numbers of plainer calves have been forwarded, possibly due to the increased workload on-farm, with silaging still preoccupying many producers.

It would still pay farmers to be feeding the better end of these calves, says Gloucester-based Jon Pullin.

He reckons the demand from calf rearers presents an opportunity for the dairy sector which is struggling to add value elsewhere.

Better animals are worth between 40-55 a head at many centres, representing a reasonable return.

Mid-range rearing sorts are commonly 14-20 each, sufficient to cover costs. But only just, he adds.

The bobby calf trade is still mopping up poorer entries at 3-8 a head, and at that price many auctioneers still believe a number of calves are being killed on-farm.

That belief is reinforced by the National Farmers Union and Meat & Livestock Commission; who are compiling figures.

With another flush of calves expected as summer calving gets under way, concern over a fall in values has to be put into perspective, says Bagshaws Peter Oven at Bakewell.

Milk producers have been spreading out service dates and the supply of youngstock is evening out.

However, I suspect many rearers will be getting full by now and not until these animals have moved on will they be looking for more.

Continental breeds are still in demand, although recent peaks in trade have been hard to sustain.

At Chelford market, Cheshire, auctioneer Nigel Ashley saw interest from Scotland taking a number of the top-priced bull and heifer entries.

Like others, best Blonde or Limousin bulls have been topping 200 a piece; heifers are less due to the lack of a subsidy claim.

Typically, Continental values remain steady with Charolais X bull calf averages staying level at 136 a head for the past two weeks.

These prices still are someway back on trade being achieved in countries from which live exports are permitted.

Ireland is enjoying a strong trade in shipments of stores of all ages with prices back to pre-BSE levels.

There is no sign of that trade returning in the UK either in the near future or ever, adds Mr Pullin.