Auctions provide lifeline for restricted herds

Timely introduction of TB-restricted sales relieves stocking rate pressure at a Herefordshire unit. By FW Reporters

Livestock auction markets are throwing an invaluable lifeline to beef and dairy herds struggling with high stocking rates, and sometimes poor cashflow, due to bovine TB restrictions. Autumn 2010 saw the first licensed TB-restricted sales, which the Livestock Auctioneers Association (LAA) says provides stricken herds with a vital outlet for surplus beef and dairy stock.

“The only other way to sell stock from a herd under TB restrictions prior to that was through private sale to a licensed unit – not easy and not a fair system either,” says auctioneer Richard Gwilliam, from Herefordshire-based McCartneys.

Chris and Richard Norman would agree. The brothers are dairy producers first and foremost, running a 500-strong herd of Jersey x Friesians. Their 20-cow herd of pedigree Hereford sucklers is a secondary enterprise and it was causing something of a headache, when their unit was put under TB-restrictions in 2009. “Being unable to sell beef cattle and surplus stock for almost three years was not ideal – we didn’t have the time, the space or the resources to cope,” explains Chris.

But finally, back in April, they were able to sell 60 head of stock at a local auction at Ludlow market, just 15 miles away from their Pembridge unit.

“This was such a relief. We’d have had to make significant alterations to our unit to accommodate the extra cattle in order to fatten and finish them, before sending them off to the abattoir – that was one option,” says Chris.

“The other was to shoot the calves at birth. Unthinkable, particularly when we’re producing such top quality calves.”

The brothers are extremely pleased with the prices they realised for their stock at market. “We felt the auctioneer and the market did its utmost to help us get as good a price as possible for our cattle and when I totted up how much we’d made, I was really pleased,” says Chris.

He says the market did a good job of “lotting up” the cattle. “There was a mix of different breeds and sizes and the auctioneer grouped like with like and presented them well. We also trimmed a few tails and tidied up the cattle, which were mainly dairy crosses, to make sure they looked their best,” he adds.

Without the sale, the Normans would still have the cattle on farm – and the extra work and hassle that comes with running a makeshift beef finishing enterprise. “We’d have had to keep them for fattening and that would have been a lot of extra work and would have really wound me up,” says Chris. “It’s not what we do here – we’re not beef producers. I don’t think there’s money in it and feed prices are not cheap at the moment either.”

As it is, the Normans saw some strong prices for the cattle they sold – some as high as prices seen in recent non-restricted sales. “And it was good for us as auctioneers; we were able to hold a sale and attract some buyers who were interested in the vendors’ stock. Everyone was happy at the end of the day,” says Mr Gwilliam.

He says that there are plans for more TB-restricted sales in other parts of the UK – great news for beef and dairy producers with restricted herds and those with a licence to buy stock from them, according to the LAA.

“Auction is the best way to sell these cattle – it’s a much fairer system. Auctioneers have the contacts of those who are both licensed to buy the stock and have a licensed holding to take it to,” says the LAA’s executive secretary Chris Dodds.