Keith Rose (Northampton Livestock Sales)
FARMERS need to improve cattle condition if margins are to be safeguarded, says Keith Rose.
"Too many under-finished animals continue to be sold – particularly heifers.
"With cattle birth document records still a rarity, dentition remains the main ageing method. The moment the third tooth cuts the gum, they are excluded from the human food chain and go on the slaughter scheme at 69p/kg.
"Hardly surprising, therefore, that people are tempted to sell them early. Even with a lack of finish, they can still make over 80p/kg on the open market."
It is a problem which looks set to continue until about Christmas, says Mr Rose. By then, the bulk of heifers marketed will have been born after July 1996 and will, therefore, carry a passport.
"Under-finishing is less evident with steers. Farmers can confidently delay selling them right up to the eve of their 30-month birthday, because male animals tend to have proof of age on their CIDs."
One solution, says Mr Rose, is to keep in touch with your market.
"Many offer a free on-farm advice service, with staff coming out and looking at stock and recommending the best time to sell them.
"They can also keep you briefed as to what type of beast is likely to be in most demand at any one time. Different buyers have different requirements – and on any one day, the mix of buyers will vary.
"Ask your auctioneer who is likely to be present at a particular time, allowing you to present stock when there will be most interest in it.
"Local butchers, for example, want the small handy-weight heifers. Medium-sized abattoirs take most stock, as long as it is not too heavy. And the large abattoirs, selling to the supermarkets, will avoid the too lightweight animals, concentrating, perhaps, on heifers around 500kg and bullocks around the 660kg mark.
"Buyers generally want a U or R conformation carcass. Anything that achieves that will generally top the 100p/kg level.
"The ideal weight is up to 640kg for a bullock and 540kg for a heifer.
"Remember, however, that buyers also discriminate against over-finished animals. They dont want to have to do too much trimming."
This need to sell cattle early has ensured that only a handful of those going on the cull collection scheme at Northampton are prime bullocks or heifers. Most are old, cull cows.
Last week, for example, of 35 head, there were four over-age bullocks and half a dozen four-tooth heifers. Rather different to last autumn, when the scheme throughput was at a peak of about 130 a week, of which most would be over-age prime beasts.
The fixation with age, meanwhile, has permeated the store trade, too. "The number of teeth of every female sold is announced: those only showing their calf teeth make a premium, as do those that show a half-decent level of finish.
"At this time of year, buyers get nervous if they see a store bullock which looks as if it needs all summer to finish and it is already 26-months-old."n
Teething problems…although entered for the cull scheme, this heifer, under the dentition rules, was found by Keith Rose to be saleable on the open market which could mean 20p/kg over the scheme price.
Advice from Northampton
• Dont hang on to cattle, hoping for a shortage
• Pay close attention to stock condition
• Speak regularly to your auctioneer