Second choice rearing calves lift £60-£100 in buoyant trade

A £5/kg deadweight beef price and the approach of spring have bolstered interest in rearing stock, putting up to £100 on second-quality rearing calves in recent days.

Best calves have withstood the depressing winter trade quite well, but auctioneers say a new level has been seen on the smaller calves since the start of the year.

See also: Finisher and shopper concerns as beef price hits £5/kg

A combination of high calf feed prices and milk powders costing more than £2,500/t meant buying small calves late in 2022 was uneconomical.

As a result, calf slaughtering was up 31% in 2022 to 83,300 head, a trend that continued into January.

But the turnaround in trade mean some calves have now gone from being unsellable to making £70-£80 apiece, and better ones that were making £70-£80 are now up to £170-£180.

Milk powder price turns a corner

Some farms have reported a welcome £100/t easing in the milk powder price – although costs remain high.

So, while calf values have firmed, this is more a case of recovering lost ground to where they were a year ago.

That is the assessment of Tim Hector, calf auctioneer at Frome, who said: “We have had more buyers and they are keener for calves in the past fortnight.

“Compared to last year, there wouldn’t be a huge difference in trade now. It was the mid-winter period that was difficult, as it usually is. It just lasted longer this time and buyers were only interested in the very best.”

Summarising the trade for the mostly three-to-four-week-old calves at Frome, he said the lion’s share of the blue bulls were £180-£240 on Wednesday (1 March), with the best going above £400.

Heifer trade had lifted “across the board”, like bulls, he added. “We’ve had no dairy bulls for several weeks running at times, such is the extent that sexed semen is being used,” said Mr Hector. “We only had seven out of 190 at the last sale.”

Carmarthen calves dearer

A big rise in the second-quality calves has also been seen in west Wales, according to Elwyn Thomas of Nock Deighton’s Carmarthen Livestock Mart.

Mr Thomas said some calves that made £30-£90 a head back in January had made £90-£180 at the latest sale (1 March).

This was welcome news for spring calvers, with more calves coming to market every week. Numbers lifted to 251 head for 16 buyers, compared with 194 the previous week and 157 the week before.

Most calves were under six weeks old, although the best blue-cross bull this week (1 March) was two months old and made £405. Four-month-old calves made £270-£320 a head.