26 September 1997

Dairy calves tumble but beef firms

By Tim Relf

THE gap between the top and the bottom end of the calf market is widening.

Open market values of dairy-bred animals have followed the slaughter scheme price downwards.

Following a fall in the payment rate, and green £ revaluations, this has dropped £20 to £83 since last autumn.

Meanwhile beef-type calves are now being sought after with the same intensity that has been driving the store cattle trade.

Recent weeks at farmers weekly sample markets show Charolais cross beasts, for example, averaging about £195, up £20 on June levels. And this regardless of the fall in the scheme payment for such animals, which has come down from £128 to £104.

But as auctioneer Roy Waller at Chelford, Cheshire, says: "With only a small number of these calves put into the scheme, the compensation level doesnt affect the open market trade."

National figures show 385,961 animals killed up to Sept 12. Of these, only 12% were beef sorts.

Auctioneer John Bundy at Shaftesbury, Dorset, says farmers are bidding more confidently, with some predicting a beef shortage in two years time. The best Continentals were making £240 on Monday at Shaftesbury. "The lower grain price is encouraging some people to feed it, rather than sell it," says Mr Bundy.

John Pullin, auctioneer at Gloucester, says Continental cross calves are in short supply, following the trend of crossing dairy cows with Holstein Friesians rather than beef breeds.

Meanwhile as black-and-white bull calf prices have fallen, so interest in them from rearers has grown. On Monday at Gloucester, about 40% of them were snapped up by rearers, about double the usual number. And prices were up to £148. "Now harvest is over, farmers are out buying again – and they see the Friesian as a cheap rearing calf."

Keith Rose, auctioneer at Northampton, has also seen the value of male calves rise, as the shortage is felt. And farmers, he says, should consider heifers.

"Although there is no subsidy payment available on them, they can be bought for £100 a head less than males, they can be finished in 12 or 13 months and the good ones will make over 100p/kg in the prime ring."

&#8226 Fewer calves are now being slaughtered under the processing scheme. The week to Sept 12 saw 13,380 calves killed; during the corresponding week in 1996, the figure was 17,810.n