15 May 1998

Leave second-rate bulls at home in this choosy spring

DISCERNING is the best word to describe bull buyers this spring, with second-rate animals barely worth taking to market.

"The differential between the best and the rest will continue," says auctioneer David Leggat of United Auctions. Good conformation, easy fleshing, mobility and ease-of-calving characterise the best.

Boosting demand at the top end has been the growing practice of sharing sires. "Instead of paying, say, 3000gns, some farmers are pooling resources and spending 5000gns."

But some farmers, says Mr Leggat, are working a double herd – calving in both the spring and the autumn and, therefore, reducing the number of bulls required.

Lower commercial cattle values have also hit prices, with the old adage that what you spend on a bull should equate to 10 times the value of a stirk calf still in some peoples minds, says Mr Leggat.

David Thomlinson of Harrison and Hetherington blames the over 30-month scheme for reducing values. "In the old days, if you could get £1000 or more for a cast bull, this went a long way to paying for a replacement. Now, with compensation at about £300, the gap is a lot bigger." And the reduced use of beef breeds in the dairy herd has also hit demand, with farmers now more inclined to use a black-and-white.

"The big criteria now is conformation. People want bulls with a lot of shape and big hindquarters. If it has production figures which complement this, so much the better," says Mr Thomlinson.

"Buyers are very cautious and mindful of what they spend. They know what they want, too, so a lot are going home from sales without bulls if they cant see what they are looking for."

And that was precisely what a number of potential buyers did at last months multi-breed sale at Thainstone, Inverurie. "Buyers were only interested in bulls with growth and conformation," says auctioneer Allan Taylor. "Poorer quality types are simply not wanted."

The growing disillusionment with the bottom quality end of the market reflects the premium available for better bred store and finished animals. Top-notch finished beef is still making 130p/kg liveweight, while the plainer sorts – especially those nearing 30 months of age – is in the 60p to 80p/kg range.

A lot of the poorer bulls are now slaughtered before they hit 30 months of age, says Mr Taylor. This means that they can enter the food chain, often an "easier option" than offering them as breeding bulls. In the latter case, they have to be put into sale or show-ring condition, guarantees have to be provided and, even then, they might make little or no more than if sold for meat.

The Thainstone auction saw a top of 3400gns, paid for a Limousin. The breed averaged £1991. &#42

David Leggat… Big differential between the best bulls and the rest.

Feeling bullish? If you are selling good stock, you have probably got good reason to. But poorer quality animals are struggling to find buyers.