Good-quality calves are difficult to find

ByTim Relf

DEMAND is picking up for good-quality calves – but some buyers are having difficulty finding them.

“People want quality – but there is a shortage of it,” says John Waine of Mid West Calves. “Getting volume and quality together is everyoneís problem.”

It comes after the 1998/99 quota year closed last Wednesday (Mar 31), the final stages of which saw under-quota farmers putting milk in the tank rather than feed it to calves.

It contrasts, says Mr Waine, with the more usual situation of people diverting milk to stock in the face of overproduction. “Normally we see some superb calves fed on milk. But they are not there.”

From now on, it will be “business as usual,” with farmers putting as much as possible in the tank.

Meanwhile uncertainties hang over the black-and-white market, with the calf processing scheme – now paying about £55/head – due to end on Jul 31. “That comes at a very difficult time – just before the peak season.”

“I donít believe anyone has really got an answer as to where it will be without the scheme and without live exports,î says Mr Waine. “Itís very worrying.”

Auctioneer Nick Oliver at Frome, Somerset, has also seen the condition of the offering deteriorate as farmers, struggling to hit quota, sold stock. “There were some atrocious calves in March.” Numbers have also been higher than 12 months ago, with last Mondayís entry at Frome totalling 460.

The gap between the best and the worst is widening, says Mr Oliver. “The third-quality sorts that might have been over £100 two weeks ago were under £100 last week.”

At the top end of the market, though, the £200-mark was hit last week for a 18-day-old sort. “This is achievable now – but it wasnít last year or even a month ago.”

He attributes the upturn among the better sorts to the firmer finished beef and store trade. “It is looking promising for the beef farmer. Dairy farmers are feeling miserable again, though.”

Peter Hambleton of Warwickshire Quality Calves says interest has picked up in the lowlands as farmers finish lambing, with good Continental bulls making £120 to £180. “But there is a gulf between the best ones and the rest.” Black-and-whites bought for rearing, meanwhile, are making between £50 and £70, he adds.

The increased interest in baby calves parallels the demand for reared calves and stores – particularly those close to finishing. “People donít want to have cash in cattle for two long.”

But quality has been on the up as the weather improved, says Mr Hambleton. Average weights have risen about 3kg. “Theyre looking well – they re looking like spring calves,” he says.

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