Farmers lose in great calf giveaway

By Vicky Houchin

MANY farmers taking black-and-white calves to market this week have gone home empty-handed when values failed to cover even the auctioneers commission.

Auctioneer Ashley Ward of Guildford market said bull calves produced for Friesian herds were by-products of the industry and would be a liability. “And farmers must limit that liability,” he added.

“Theres such an oversupply of calves at the moment that unless theyre truly excellent theyre absolutely worthless.

“[Farmers] have to resign themselves to disposal charges or dispose of them themselves.”

Mr Ward said many calves had come to market in recent weeks, although in the long term it would not be viable for farmers to send them.

Farmers wont send them because it costs £3-4 to get them to market and a further £3 to tag them, he said.

Best Friesian calves made about £60 at Guildford yesterday (Thursday), while a number of reasonable quality calves sold for between £20-£40.

But those with the poorest black-and-white samples left with nothing despite the market forfeiting its commission.

Some calves were bought by farmers looking to rear them. “But confidence in the beef industry is at rock bottom,” said Mr Ward.

Other calves were bought for slaughter but, after abattoir charges, there would be nothing left for the farmer, he added.

The problem the processors face is the competition from imports and intervention, said Mr Ward.

He believes trying to meet the export requirements would be more trouble than it was worth.

Calves could be worth about £100 if exports were resumed. And, with a thriving market in France, Belgium and Denmark, UK farmers are becoming increasingly frustrated.

“If anything should qualify for free movement, it should be British calves. The government is ducking its responsibilities.”

David Brown, company secretary for live exporter Farmers Ferry said his company had been approached by Denmark, Belgium and France, all looking for British calves.

He believes farmers could treble their profit margins if the ban on calf exports was lifted. “Calves could be worth much more than £100,” said Mr Brown.

Auctioneer Richard Pringle of Exeter market said five calves were given away to be slaughtered at market today. “Farmers could either give them away or make £1.”

Although cross-breds were trading well, it was the Friesians that had taken a knock, said Mr Pringle.

Farmers were bringing the poor calves to market because they didnt want to shoot them, he added.

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