14 November 1997

No upturn for suckled calves

SUCKLED calf prices are showing no sign of improvement, as uncertainty reigns in the beef market.

Last weeks sale of spring-born stock at Wooler, Northumberland saw steers and heifers average 130p and 88p/kg respectively. Both were down about 20p on 1996.

Wooler auctioneer Scott Donaldson says the lacklustre trade has prompted some farmers to postpone selling calves until next spring. "People certainly have the fodder to do this – it depends whether they have the space."

Mostly it has been the heifers that have been held back. And the price of some is now so low that they represent good value, says Mr Donaldson.

"If you can buy a six-month-old heifer for not much more than £200, there must be money in that."

Peter Huntley, auctioneer at Cutcombe, Devon, has seen interest in female stock pick up.

"Farmers who have filled their subsidy allocation of male animals may think that the best way to add heads is to buy heifers, saving some money in the process."

At Cutcombe last week, good heifers were making between 85p and 95p/kg, but the poorer sorts were in the low 70ps.

The depressed finished beef trade continues, says Mr Huntley. "This time last year, the finished trade picked up, encouraging suckled calf and store buyers."

And at Knighton, Powys, auctioneer Glyn Owens blames currency. "The strong £ makesus an easy target to export into."

Business at Knighton last week saw suckled calf steers and heifers average 140p and 95p/kg respectively. And stores averaged 106.6p and 89p/kg.

Buyers remain depressed – despite the cheaper feed costs and the prospect of tighter beef supplies due to the calf slaughter scheme, says Mr Owens.

"Theyre not looking for a big margin – but they need some margin."