Flying prime beef trade still to lift calf prices

A consistent and firm rearing-calf trade is yet to be buoyed by surging prime cattle values currently seeing finished prime beef averages up 20p/kg on the year.

Great Britain’s steer averages are up 20p/kg at 200-204p/kg, heifers are up 10-20p/kg at 210-216p/kg and bulls are 10p/kg dearer at 188-190p/kg.

However, auctioneers report a stable but not rising calf trade.

Latest AHDB store and rearing calf prices (6-12 May) for rearing calves less than six weeks old show Hereford-cross bulls averaged £164 a head and continental bulls have made £280.

Markethill, Co Armagh

Stronger prime cattle prices have lifted stores values but are yet to be felt in the dropped calf ring at Markethill, according to mart director Hampton Hewitt.

Weekly calf sales see 140-150 sold each Tuesday, of which 80-90% are from the dairy herd. About 75% are young rearing calves under six months old.

Mr Hewitt says better calves are making £270-£350 and the best make £400.

“Factory prices have gone up, store trade has firmed and it will be at least three to six months before those stores are in the system,” he says. “Calf prices, meanwhile, have been less affected by prime values.”

Native-bred schemes are creating demand for the best angus and Hereford-cross calves, while veal contracts have underpinned demand for Friesian bulls.

Mr Hewitt said there had been a trend for farms to sell weaned calves young, rather than holding on to them and running them on grass.

“Marts have seen a big increase in young weanlings around three to six months old. Our numbers peaked at 310 the other week and are up 20% generally.”



Trade has remained consistent with some minor weather and lambing-related drops in price through the spring, says Nigel Griffiths, auctioneer at Carmarthen Livestock Centre for BJP Marts.

Carmarthen’s Wednesday sales are seeing 550-600 rearing calves under the hammer, usually made up of 400 beef-crosses and 100-200 Friesians.

A more all-year-round calf supply has been the feature of recent years, with 550 calves still going through the ring in the autumn.

A strong nucleus of 15-20 calf dealers ringside every week has kept calf prices strong but weather or busy times – lambing and silaging – can knock £10-£20 a head off trade. 

During the spring-block calving season numbers can lift 25-30% on the norm, but Mr Griffiths says trade usually holds up during these busy periods.

“We may see trade back a little this week as people make hay and silage,” Mr Griffith told Farmers Weekly. “It’s been a tough winter and people have jobs to catch up on.”

Prices for 20-day-old to four-week-old calves have been hitting £300-£400 for Blue-cross bull calves with heifers at £270-£340. Limousin-cross bulls have made £300-£350 and heifers have been at £230-£280.

Natives have been around £220-£270 for bulls and £180-£230 for heifers, although buoyant prime trade is not lifting calf values.

“Sometimes the previous year has a bearing on what people are willing to pay,” Mr Griffiths says.