5 June 1998

Demand sustained for cows & calves

PLENTY of cows with calves at foot are on the market – but demand is holding up.

"Better than expected," is how auctioneer Scott Donaldson at Wooler, Northumberland, describes the trade. The mart has hosted a spate of such sales recently, among them last weeks reduction of the Branxton Hill herd. The event saw a top price of £980 for a Simmental cross heifer, with a Blonde bull calf.

And earlier in the month, the venue saw the offering of the autumn-calving portion of the Scrainwood herd, where bidding topped at £1010 for an Irish black heifer with a Charolais calf.

"At the mention of a dispersal people come out of the woodwork and are prepared to travel great distances to buy," says Mr Donaldson.

Some of the interest is coming from people who, in the past, would have been looking for bulling heifers. But buying a cow with a calf, instead, means you can sell the "produce" in a year, he says.

At the top end of the quality scale, outfits are still topping £1000, some reaching £1200. Third-calvers and younger are relatively easy to sell – but older animals – especially those with small heifer calves – are harder to place, some making nearer £400.

Michael Bowe, auctioneer at Penrith, Cumbria says this spring has seen quite a few dispersals. Limiting the value of older stock is the £300 cull value imposed by the over-30-month-scheme, he says. "But a heifer has still got a lot of life left in it – and more time to pay for itself."

Buoyant prices of male stock have prompted some demand to switch to the outfits with the relatively cheaper heifer calves.

When it comes to finished animals, butchers seem to like them as much as steers, says Mr Bowe.

At Carlisle, however, auctioneer David Pritchard doesnt think there are any more breeding cattle on offer than usual.

He says the shift away from finishing stores to "breeding a cash crop of calves" has contributed to the demand.

Outfits with bull calves – which attract a subsidy – are making between £100 and £200 more than those with females, says Mr Pritchard.

North of the border at Lanark, auctioneer Tom Struthers has also seen trade pick up. Some farmers, he says, have quit dairying and gone into suckler beef production in the face of falling milk prices. "For those people that dont fancy milking cows seven days a week, theres the option of selling quota and going into sucklers."

But at Ayr, auctioneer Jim Craig reckons its working the other way, too. "A lot of people with suckler and dairy cows have got rid of the sucklers and intensified the dairying."

Branxton Hill – average prices for stock

Stock with calves at foot £/outfit

31 heifers 727

27 second calvers 680

29 third calvers 521

26 fourth/fifth calvers 484

Cows with calves at foot are making anything from £400-£1000 plus.