17 August 2001

Dairy cattle tend to ease for season

By Jeremy Hunt

DAIRY cattle values in some regions are following the traditional mid-summer pattern and have eased by around £200 in recent weeks, but striking deals for restocking has not been easy.

Although some auctioneers are successfully completing forward contract deals for whole herds to be delivered in the winter, others say vendors are less willing to commit themselves to sales based on an August price for an open-ended delivery date – possibly into the New Year or later.

Some dairy farmers have decided not to bring cows back into buildings this winter and will restock at grass next spring. But Martin Dare of Somerset auctioneers Greenslade Taylor Hunt, says there are plenty of south-west milk producers who want to be back in business soon.

"The challenge is matching the right buyer with the right seller at the right price, particularly for cattle being bought on an open-ended delivery date," says Mr Dare.

There are still plenty of dairy cattle for sale in Devon, Somerset and Dorset, both as whole herds and from producers with batches of surplus heifers.

As in all regions, in-calf heifers are the most sought after and selling from £700-1000, but prices are expected to firm soon.

Cumbrian dairy farmer Ian Mallinson of Armathwaite, near Carlisle, lost 250 head of pedigree Holstein cattle through the foot-and-mouth cull. Hes been one of a steady stream of the countys buyers inspecting herds in the south-west in recent weeks.

"From a herd health point of view, more farmers are preferring to buy-in whole herds of cattle. There are plenty of very good quality cattle on the market and most sellers are prepared to settle the deal now for early spring delivery," said Mr Mallinson.

Clive Norbury, of auctioneers Wright-Manley in Cheshire, is moving around 100 head of dairy cattle a week from the firms sale register, which includes Jersey and Ayrshire herds as well as Holsteins.

Holstein heifers for autumn calving are trading at £700-£900 apiece, while in-milk heifers are similarly priced.

"Theyre back about £200. Its a seasonal drop and I cant explain why. The UK isnt awash with milk and the anticipated demand for restocking should be keeping the trade up. Top end heifers have been £1000-£1200, but I think prices will firm again as we move into autumn," says Mr Norbury.

Dairy cattle prices in Scotland have not showed a seasonal fall. Edward Brown of Carlisles Harrison and Hetherington, which has a register of 20,000 head, has already finalised several whole herd deals sold on a forward contract basis between Scottish farmers.

"Good sorts from 8000 litre herds are making around £1200, but I dont think prices will go crazy even when restocking begins in earnest.

"There are some tremendous UK cattle about and theres certainly a willingness in Scotland to sign a contract and pay a deposit for December/January delivery at a fixed price," said Mr Brown. &#42