Spring dairy trade holds up well as import prices buoy demand

Dairy trade has held up fairly well this spring, but buyers are being picky about what they spend their money on, with second-class heifers harder to place.

Averages for freshly calved heifers were back 6% on the year for the month of April, according to AHDB data.

But fresh cows have seen a 7% uplift for the same period.

Overall, the total number of dairy animals sold rose by nearly 30% last month compared with April last year, with an upsurge of dairy dispersal sales evident. Sedgemoor reported a record two months of dispersals.

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Carlisle

Dairy trade at Borderway Mart, Carlisle, appears to be bucking the trend. Harrison and Hetherington dairy auctioneer Glyn Lucas said that while numbers were up at its monthly dairy sales, there hadn’t been an increase in dispersals.

“We have more people starting than going out [of milk] and that’s never been the case. In Scotland and Cumbria, people are looking at what they can do with land, and dairy farming is one of the most attractive options.”

Mr Lucas said trade had been “above expectations” for April and May, when the spring flush often dictated lower demand.

He said freshly calved cows and heifers averaged £1,500 each at the last monthly sale on 1 May, while newly calved, pedigree cows and heifers averaged £1,789 at the last pedigree sale on 17 April.

He said it was difficult to say what was driving demand with “a massive variation in milk contracts”, but he added that some farmers were restocking after culling hard last year due to fodder shortages.

Shrewsbury

At Shrewsbury Auction Centre, dairy auctioneer Jonny Dymond said there was strong demand for first-quality cows and heifers, but second-quality heifers were more difficult to sell among ringside buyers, mainly comprising flying herds.  

He said second-quality heifers were making the same as second-quality cows with lower life expectancy.

“Last week, a freshly calved cow in her sixth lactation made £1,000 and a second-quality heifer made £1,000,” he said.

Buyers didn’t want any problems, he said, and were instead willing to spend more on “proven” cows that had done 2-3 lactations and were robust.

At the latest dairy sale, an entry of 83 in-milk cows, including an ongoing dispersal sale, peaked at £1,620 and heifers sold to £1,750.

Mr Dymond said strong demand was being buoyed by high import prices, but added that trade was on a “knife edge” and would be heavily dependent on future milk production.

“Spring calvers have had the best spring for years so it depends how long that goes on for and what the summer holds,” he said.