Cull price sparks change

With Graeme Smith away on the moors, lambing the Cheviot flock, his brother Colin has been supervising calving at Towiemore itself.

But strong cull cow prices at nearby Thainstone auction mart have meant a different approach to selecting culls.

“We’ve had two particular cows for a number of years, and while they have been good breeders for us, they will try and kill you if you get in the pen near their calves.

But we’ve always put up with the risk and kept them as they were worth so little into the over-30-months scheme.”

Realistic values for these cows and a burgeoning trade have changed all that, he says.

“Now, once they’ve reared a calf, they’re going.

The cull cows we’ve sent to Thainstone recently have realised £600 a head.

Compare that with compensation of just £280 into the scheme.”

The strong trade means the brothers can treat cows as assets and depreciate their cost as they would any other.

“We were getting just £280 for a cow and looking at a replacement cost of £650 for a bulling heifer.

Now, even with strong prices for breeding cattle, we can put a cull cow away and replace her for just £100 more.

And we might keep her for five or 10 years so we can write down that £100 easily.”

Other farmers in the area are realising that they, too, no longer need to suffer unmanageable stock.

“They’re sending all the heroes down the road and getting something quieter and easier to manage.”

This means taking a critical view of the whole herd, not just old or barren cows.

“This is the first year I’ve had calved heifers that would try and kill you if you went near their calves.

They’ll go the same way as the most aggressive cows.

“And trade still appears to be climbing.

There’s growing demand and a lot of very strong buyers at the mart.

The very best are making £1/kg.”

There are other reasons to be encouraged, too.

The Scottish deadweight price for R4L beasts has reached about 220p/kg in recent weeks. So a 420kg beast, the cut-off weight before deductions are levied, would realise £924.

And Colin is confident trade will remain strong throughout the coming months, if not improve further.

“I don’t see any signs that the finished markets will slow down.

The re-opening of exports has helped, and there are many strong buyers for older cows, particularly from Ireland.”

Coupled with this, a general shortage of stock in Scotland is helping the trade.

“Rather than sell calves as yearlings in the store market, we’ve put them out to grass to finish ourselves.”

About 40 heifers with calves at foot will go to Thainstone today (19 May), and Colin is hoping they’ll meet a similar trade to the mart’s show and sale of breeding cattle on 10 May.

Champion on the day was a black Limousin-cross heifer with Limousin-cross bull calf which sold to £2100, with others at £1650 and Limousin/ Simmental combinations at £1400.

All Towiemore’s replacement females have already been bought and the bull went in to the heifers on 1 April.

“So they should start to calve from 1 February 2007 – approximately,” says Colin.

While Colin’s nights have been disturbed by several early-hours calvings, he has found some time to grapple with his 2006-2007 single payment scheme claim forms.

But Towiemore is still missing the second half of this year’s payment and all its Less Favoured Area Scheme cash.

“As a new venture, I’ve decided to take the payment in euros next year.

It’s just too high a risk relying on the rate being set on one day’s trading in September.

“A lot of companies we deal with will accept payment in euros and I can exchange when rates are favourable.

But I won’t know the actual gain until I see that September rate and know what I can sell my euros for.

So I’m looking at the exchange rate every day – I’m a speculator!”

Meanwhile, with lambing almost complete among the lowland Mule flock, Graeme Smith has been busy up in the grouse moors as the Cheviot ewes lamb among the grass and heather.

“We’ll let you know how both flocks performed next time.”

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