By Jeremy Hunt

SUCKLER cows with calves at foot are making up to £150 a head more than last spring as established herds respond to a hint of confidence in the beef market and begin to reinvest.

Lowland suckler herds are preparing to expand numbers, says Ludlow auctioneer John Uffold, who anticipates a spate of new herds being set up as production again starts to look attractive.

“There are plenty of farmers looking for cattle to start new lowland suckler herds as the most profitable way of utilising by-products.

“Finished beef may not be the most profitable commodity at the moment but for an arable farm that can calve cows in February and carry stock inside during the winter on cheap corn or waste potatoes its by the far the best way to make the most efficient use of large quantities of low cost feed.”

Mr Uffold is expecting a brisk trade for beef breeding females at Ludlows sale on 16 April. “When corn is fetching £120/t its worth selling; at £70-£80/t and with gleanings, other waste products and plenty of straw about, its more economical to turn it into beef.

“Sheep would not consume the same large quantities; suckler cows can be easily managed on a low cost system. They are the obvious livestock option.” Suckler herd owners were bidding confidently at Hexham last week when 70 head were offered by auctioneer Scott Donaldson. “We were £100-£150 a head up on the year. Limousin crosses predominated with good quality heifers and bull calves to £1120 and with heifer calves to £980.

“Established herd owners were in action and in many cases its the first serious cash they have invested in suckler females for some time. Older cows need replacing and I think we are seeing farmers starting to look ahead with a little more confidence. Higher store prices and the marginally better beef trade is certainly a factor,” says Mr Donaldson.

Demand for the 645 beef breeding stock offered at Carlisle reflected the trend with in-calf suckler heifers averaging £558 – up £75 – and attracting a keen trade for the best sorts. Heifers with heifer calves averaged £645 – up £41 – but heifers with bull calves showed a fall of £5 levelling at £763.