Dairy animal shortage hits north hard
By Jeremy Hunt North-west correspondent
FINDING enough dairy cattle to restock Cumbria farms with sentinel animals that test whether foot-and-mouth is still present on a farm is proving an impossible task.
Auctioneer Chris Dodds, of Penrith Farmers and Kidds, says there are just too few dairy cattle in Cumbria and neighbouring counties to meet the needs of sentinel stocking.
Under the present movement restrictions, which have recently be eased by DEFRA, stock can be brought into Cumbria from surrounding high risk areas of Northumberland, Durham and parts of North Yorks. However, this is not expected to lead to a significant increase in the availability of animals, rendering the sentinel option almost unworkable.
This means a costly delay for many of the regions dairy farmers who cannot start the process of moving back into milk production, even though sufficient time has elapsed on their holdings.
Sentinel animals, must account for 25% of the previous herd total. If they blood test negative after four weeks these holdings are safe to restock.
Alternatively, farms can remain free of all animals for four months after DEFRA has issued them with the "green light" FM7 notice, and then restock. Most Cumbria farms are taking this option hoping that cattle will be allowed into the county from other areas at the end of the period.
Recent weeks have seen more Cumbria dairy farmers "staking their claim" on herds outside the county. The trend is toward forward buying, and negotiating a contractual agreement with the vendor.
Edward Brown of Harrison and Hetherington at Carlisle says deals are being struck at around £1100-£1200/head for in-milk stock bought as a complete herd.
"Sellers in the south and the Midlands are being sensible and leaving out older cows, but good 100-150 cow herds giving 8000kg are becoming harder to find.
"Those who wanted to get out of milk had their herds on the market in the summer and have sold them. Most of those left are not as desperate to sell and the milk price is an incentive to milk cows through the winter," says Mr Brown.
Clive Norbury, of Cheshire auctioneer Wright-Manley, has also been arranging sales of whole herds bound for Cumbria as soon as restrictions are lifted.
"More Cumbria farmers are forward buying whole herds. They want to get their name on a herd, and vendors are prepared to do the deal and fix the price," says Mr Norbury.
Auctioneers add there is no shortage of cattle and buyers should not panic. Prices vary with some firms still offering large numbers of stock from their sales lists at £800-£950 for calved heifers. Others say registered Holsteins with good milk records are making £1300-£1500.
"The welfare scheme has created a shortage of mature cows, but overall prices should not increase that much in the short term although the cheaper end of commercial dairy cattle could firm in the coming months," says Mr Norbury. *
Many Cumbria dairy farmers who plan to restock are forward buying whole herds outside the county on contractual agreements with the vendor. But auctioneers say there is no shortage and buyers should not panic,
• Sentinel system not working.
• Many buying whole herds in advance.
• No panic over prices, but commercial cattle may firm.