Rearing calf trade has remained remarkably strong and should stay buoyant as beef prices track closely to last year with prime steers at 200p/kg and prime heifers at 218p/kg.
Continental calves have proved a solid trade, while black and white sorts see a little more variability, report auctioneers.
Dairy cull cows are still regularly hitting 120p/kg and young continental-cross bull calves are averaging £250 at six weeks old. The view from the rostrum is that flying herds are often covering the cost of a replacement heifer.
- £48.95 – AHDB’s average mid-February price for Friesian bull calves at six weeks and under
- £263 – AHDB’s average English mid-February mart price for continental bull calves
- 118.79p/kg – Average price for Holstein-Friesian cull cows on Wednesday (21 February) at Frome
- £273 – Average for Simmental-cross heifer calves at Gisburn on Thursday (22 February)
Bentham’s calf sales were up 1,366-head (+40%) in 2017 on the year and were £11 dearer than in 2016, helped partly by a mart calf-collection service, says auctioneer Will Alexander.
Throughputs are expected to build into the spring and are at 60-70-head at weekly sales, down from 100-115 before Christmas.
Typically, half the calves are pure dairy calves, with the best bulls hitting the £140-£160 mark as 8-12-week-old weanlings.
Younger dairy bulls are around £75-£95, with plainer sorts averaging £55-£68 and two-to-three-week-old calves around £35-£40 and ranging from £25-£80.
“Calves aren’t seen as a by-product anymore,” says Mr Alexander. “They are given a good start. Some buyers aren’t put off by a good young calf, actually preferring them to moderate weaned calves as they have potential.”
Strong continental bull calves are selling for between £400-£500 a head, with Mr Alexander saying younger calves at six weeks old are a great trade.
“Some calves are making £420 at 12 weeks old but some vendors don’t take them on that far and instead sell them for £100 less at half the age.”
Despite a challenging winter and straw up to around £120-£130/t, Herefordshire calves remain a strong trade, although quality is paramount, says Will Probert, livestock auctioneer at Ross-on-Wye for RG and RB Williams.
“Good Friesian bulls are £120-£150 a head, which is a very good price,” Mr Probert tells Farmers Weekly. “The bottom of the market is for Holsteins not given 100% attention is up to £25, which is gambling money, while the better ones make £50-£80.”
Calf throughputs have been hit by a number of county council farm sales in the area and TB restrictions, which are keeping numbers to a select 20-30 calves at each fortnightly sale.
“I expect as grass comes this will firm trade in the months ahead.”
More calves are required at Penrith to meet a strong trade and good demand from farmers and dealers.
Fortnightly calf sales have seen 40-53 calves over the past two months but numbers lifted to 101 last week as Black and Whites levelled at £109.28.
This is according to Andrew Maughan who has recently had Aberdeen Angus heifers (over 12 weeks) through at £315 and £380 and weaned Angus-cross bulls to £490.
Meanwhile, younger Angus-sired heifer calves have been breaking the £300 mark, although the strongest British Blue weaned bull calves are selling from £325 to £450-£505 a head.
“With wintering costs higher we thought demand would have dropped a bit, but if anything we have more customers out now than before Christmas,” Mr Maughan told Farmers Weekly.
“With prime cattle prices doing well I can’t see calf trade dropping away anytime soon.”