28 June 2002

Easing calf markets on the cards

By Simon Wragg

CALF markets are expected to ease as a seasonal swing in calving sees more youngstock come on to the market, but auctioneers anticipate black-and-white bull calf values could hold firm.

The calf market has enjoyed a strong run as rearers looked to restock after foot-and-mouth. Bull calves qualifying for a Beef Special Premium (BSP) claim in 2002 have topped demand, helping push the average price of all-breed Continental x bull calves to £154/head and Friesian x bulls at £40.40/head recently.

But auctions are now seeing more young bull calves come forward whose first subsidy claim will come in 2003 and, as a result, prices are easing back. According to Roy Waller of Frank R Marshalls Chelford base the fall was only to be expected.

He estimates medium-quality bulls were back £12-15/head at last Mondays market. Best quality entries are still in demand with the stronger Belgian Blue bulls hitting £250/head.

Values will continue to ease, he suggests. "Were heading into a busy calving period. Buyers have anticipated that and, in some cases, have started to discount prices already."

At Gisburn, Lancs, auctioneer Rachel Capstick of Richard Turner & Son says heifers have been hardest hit by a cooling off in demand. Exacerbating the issue, local producers had been awaiting the recent break in the weather to make silage and numbers at the ringside had fallen.

But the market is far from depressed. Beef finishers – particularly from the eastern counties – are still keen to fill yards and take advantage of cheap cereals for rations, says the trade.

Dairy-bred bull calf values are anticipated to remain firm. Killing values of £10/head were common post foot-and-mouth, but the demand from rearers looking to attract BSP has pushed prices to a current average of £40.40/head nation-wide. "Buyers are not valuing the calf, theyre buying the paperwork," explains Mr Waller.

In future, black-and-white calf values may improve further, reckons Charles Clark of Taunton-based Greenslade Taylor Hunt. "Were seeing a swing back to Friesian bloodlines. These bull calves are making up to £80/head against Holsteins at £30."

With poor milk and barren cow prices, the opportunity to boost income by £50/calf cannot be overlooked, he suggests. "Thats equivalent to a lot of extra milk." &#42