31 January 1997


WHEN Clive Norbury brought the hammer down on the last lot at the Charity herd sale in Cheshire recently, it marked the end of the largest dispersal ever seen in the UK.

Despite the cost of quota, and on-going genetic improvements which mean ever-fewer cows produce ever-more milk, the big herds continue to get bigger.

"This means dispersals of between 200 and 300 animals are fairly common.

"But with 1500 head on offer, the Charity herd of Holsteins, presented particular challenges."

Established in 1992, when 1000 animals were imported from Holland, the cows and heifers average yield was 8206kg at 4.04% butterfat and 3.28% protein, returning a margin over purchased feed of £1600.

And all three of the milking units into which the herd was split ranked in the UKs top 13 herds for ITEM.

Impressive figures, indeed, but such high-performance stock does not appeal to everyone.

So "saturation" of demand was a potential problem, according to Mr Norbury.

"This situation wasnt helped by the huge number of animals going through the ring.

"The event was on a tight timetable, too, with the vendors keen to complete the whole dispersal in the four-month run up to Christmas.

"Ideally, we would have spread it over a year, selling the milkers in three equal groups, on each occasion offering those that calved in the preceding quarter. Maximising, therefore, the value of each beast."

Originally it was decided to divide the process into four separate offerings, the final one cataloguing the youngstock. This last auction was, however, later split into two.

"Chiefly because it was the middle of winter and, if we had tried to sell them all in one day, we might have run short of daylight."

The gaps between sales were designed to give sufficient time for the practicalities.

Dispersals involve a lot of on-farm planning. "There were catalogues to be prepared, as well as the sufficiently broad advertising and publicity campaign a sale of this size demanded."

Spread over such a long period, the sales reflected the ups and downs of what was a volatile period in the dairy industry.

At the time of the first event, for example, barreners were log-jammed on farms around the country, and cashflow difficulties were widespread in the wake of the BSE crisis. Auctioneering was, according to Mr Norbury, "very difficult".

A slight improvement was evident the next time he took the rostrum, but it wasnt until the November auction – when confidence was returning to the sector – that values really improved. Up £400, on average.

"The saturation of demand proved to be an unfounded worry. And in the end it was the herds impressive index figures – supported by production data and, of course, good eye appeal – which was key to generating the interest."

People came to bid, not just to look, says Mr Norbury. At the first three, those there were "looking for milk", whereas at the last two, the ringside was occupied by farmers keen to develop their genetic base.

And bid they did, with a total of over £1.12m grossed.n

Charity dispersal

Average prices:£/head

Sept 16: Cows/heifers825

Oct 8: Cows/heifers870

Nov 4: Calved cows andin-calf heifers1219

Dec 3: Served/maidenheifers854

Jan 13: Maiden heifers737

The herd had good index figures, production data and eye appeal.

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