13 December 1996

Cull cows prosper in auction rings

CULL cows are now making more money sold through an auction ring than when put on the over-30-month slaughter and compensation scheme.

Until recently, auction sales were generating less than the 72.9p/kg obtainable on the scheme. For farmers tight on space, fodder and cash, it was sometimes seen as a last resort for off-loading the backlog of stock.

But the slaughter programme has progressed rapidly. And with over one million animals now accounted for, competition to source culls has intensified.

Paying more than the 72.9p/kg compensation may make sense for the better cows, because their good killing-out percentage means money can be recovered on the liveweight/deadweight differential.

But analysts are suggesting privately that margins are now being eroded at abattoirs in the drive to maintain throughputs.

Auctioneers point out that farmers also get paid quicker when using the live auction method of sale and may save money on haulage costs.

It certainly makes sense to sell your better culls through the ring, suggests David Lock at Frome. Last Wednesday, he saw an average of 75.19p/kg (£450 a head). One Montbeliarde made 91p/kg.

At Market Drayton, Shropshire, on the same day, nothing sold for under 70p/kg, with meaty Friesians up to 85.5p/kg.

"During the backlog, we all had more cows on our books than we could move. Now, markets will fight for throughputs, just as we did before the BSE crisis," says auctioneer David Brettell.

Meanwhile at Chippenham, Wilts, auctioneer Peter Kingwill says that the turnaround in cull values has coincided with a rise in dairy cow prices, prompted by weakening quota leasing market and low milk production levels.