14 July 1995

Cull cow prices keep on falling

By Tim Relf

THE long-awaited decline in cull cow marketings has been insufficient to support prices, which fell to 83.9p/kg in the week ending June 28.

And at the same time, the gap in prices between those animals with and those without BSE-free declarations is widening.

The hot weather is partly responsible for the easier trade, says auctioneer Jim Watson at Banbury, where heavy, thick-meated cows of all breeds have been generally making 85-100p/kg. BSE-free cows, making a premium of about 10-15p/kg, are well worth tracing, he says.

And at Frome cows with papers are making a premium of 10-12p. Auctioneer David Lock says that a few months ago even some of the farmers who could provide certificates were not doing so. "Now the differential in values has widened, it is essential to do so wherever possible. But probably less than 5% of cows sold here have them."

Frome, like many markets, reports an easing of trade. And numbers, having been "surprisingly high" have now fallen. "People have been busy getting in fodder," says Mr Lock.

And at Uttoxeter, after running at "incredibly" high levels, marketings have dropped. "People are keeping back cows because prices have weakened," suggests auctioneer Stephen Egerton.

The hot weather and the knock-on effect of a slightly weaker fat cattle trade have contributed to the lower prices, he suggests.

A reluctance to fill in BSE-free declarations has also been noticed by Mr Egerton. "The 10-20p/kg differential can make a lot of difference – perhaps as much as £100 a head on the bigger cows," he says.

Prices, he suggests, will now remain fairly steady until the back-end, unless numbers increase. "But with the shortage of grass, that is always a possibility."

And the prospect of any dramatic fall-off in numbers is also seen as a remote one by Jim Watson. "We are now in the calving season and a lot of freshly-calved heifers will be going into the dairy herd," he says. "This means a lot of older cows will be sold. Farmers are also very conscious of their quota situation."

Auctioneers also point to the continuing desire to curb high herd cell counts as prompting culling.

And, as David Lock says: "Traditionally, a replacement dairy heifer cost about the same as what two barren cows could be sold for. Now it is not far off being the same price." This, he suggests, is likely to prevent any further dramatic decline in marketings. "There is no particular reason why we should see an upturn in prices either," he adds. &#42