Suckled calf values down £100/head
THIS is proving to be one autumn suckled calf sellers will want to forget.
Few doubted prices would fall compared with last year – the question was by how much. With sale season in full swing, auctions are showing values down by £100/head or more.
"Members had braced themselves for the worst – and it wasnt much different from that," said Gethin Havard, chairman of the Brecon & Radnor Suckled Calf Rearers.
The groups auction of 1400 head at Knighton, Powys, last week saw steers, young bulls and heifers average 115p/kg, 110p/kg and 63p/kg respectively.
Mr Havards own cattle averaged £381, compared with £621 three years ago. And the prospect of any upturn is limited without any improvement in the finished cattle trade or further falls in sterlings value.
"The value of a heifer calf does not even cover the cost of a caesarean birth," he adds.
"Buyers are extremely cautious. But its understandable; no-one blames them for that." That aside, Mr Havard was "relieved" to see how many buyers were ringside – some of them new customers.
The disappearance of the calf slaughter scheme, however, will increase beef supplies and "dilute the pot" of beef special premium payments available for male animals. "That is a significant part of our income."
Few people, though, are tempted to hang on to calves in the hope of an upturn in the market. "Farmers are in a selling mood. Hardly anyone left in the industry is prepared to gamble a shilling."
Even if stock was kept, the chances of making any money on it is small, says Mr Havard. "If finishers are unable to make a profit with the abundance of grain and by-products at low cost, what chance is there of us making a profit here in the hills."
Scope for profit
Glyn Owens, an auctioneer in the Welsh Borders, puts the year-on-year drop in suckled calves at £60 to £90. At current prices, there is scope for finishers to make a profit. "If people earn some money this year, they will come back and buy more next year."
At Bishops Castle, Shropshire, last Thursdays offering saw steers and heifers average 108.9p and 89.8p/kg respectively. The event, for the Bishops Castle & District Quality Cattle Association, saw prices top at £2000 for a show-potential steer.
Values were down about £100/head on last autumn, says auctioneer Peter Booth. "About what you would expect, given the finished cattle trade."
Edward Owen, chairman of the association, also points to currency as the key factor. "Nothing will come right until the £ comes right."
The outlook for the coming weeks could be even worse, he fears, when smaller suckled calves are on offer. Meanwhile, all farmers can do is to produce quality stock, keep costs under control and take full advantage of the subsidy system. "In some ways farming cards is more important than farming cattle." *