13 August 1999


ALL the finished cattle sold during last winter by Cumbria farmer John Little have left an average return of £85 each.

"Estimating next years margin is difficult, but I think all store cattle and suckled calves will be slightly dearer."

He farms with brother David at Cannerhaugh, near Penrith, where a Swaledale and Blue-faced Leicester flock are run alongside a herd of 80 Limousin and Belgian Blue crossbred suckler cows.

But it is bought-in store cattle that provide a big source of the farms income. Mr Little buys most of his cattle between September and May and sells between six and 12 head of prime cattle a week all year round.

The intention is to increase the number of stores and sell at more markets to win new customers for high quality butchers cattle.

Regular butchers

"Whatever I am buying I have to keep in mind my two regular butchers who take fancy-type 500-530kg heifers and another wholesaler who wants 400-450kg heifers each week.

"I am looking for quality in everything I buy," says Mr Little, who has been paying between £350-£500 for stores during his last buying-in season.

All cattle are finished out of yards on an ad-lib, home-mix ration of barley and concentrate. Short-term finish cattle are preferred and details of every animals performance and finishing costs are kept on the farm computer.

"For strong heifers I reckon £1 a day for keep. For heifers bought at £500 and here for two months that is £60 for keep, plus £30 for sale costs. They stand me at around £590, but they have been averaging £650-£660 apiece.

"Taking every beast that has been sold over the last winter the average margin has been £85. Some might have only left £40 while others have made up to £150 profit."

Mr Little reckons he will have to pay more for stores this autumn, particularly for the better sorts: "Simply because there is still a shortage of good quality cattle.

"Suckled calves, especially the smaller sorts, could be £30-£40 a head up on last year. You will never buy suckled calves as cheap as they were last autumn.

"I was buying really beautiful suckler heifers at £350-£380 last September and they have been making up to 130p/kg at Penrith.

"Hopefully, the big bullocks that I buy at about 24-months on a blue passport may not be too much dearer. I was paying about 90p/kg last winter – £540-£560 apiece – and selling after two months at 660-720kg."

While expecting most types of stores to be more expensive over the coming months, Mr Little says the prime beef market holds no guarantees on profitability.

"No one knows. It is a big gamble. I have another brother in the meat trade and he admits that trying to forecast the market is impossible. The export situation is a step forward but there is a lot of work to be done to re-establish the trade before it will have any real impact on the prices paid around the ring."

Late July prime cattle price averages for Cannyhaugh heifers and bullocks was 125p/kg and about 107p for bulls.

"But it is hard to understand why there is such a shortage of good quality store cattle. Where are the calves by all those hundreds of good high-priced bulls sold at Carlisle? At some big stirk sales there may only be 10 really top quality cattle and there is any number of men to buy them." &#42

See more