Good rearing calf trade could lift further

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.

See also: Stirling bull sales: Winter costs hit Simmental bull buying budgets

Bentham

The numbers

  • £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.”

Ross-on-Wye

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.”

Penrith

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.”