Lighter heifers difficult to shift
FINISHED heifers failing to make the weight wanted by larger wholesale butchers and abattoirs are trading at a discount of up to 10p/kg, warns the trade.
Adding to the pressure is the decline in the number of smaller independent butchers which traditionally mopped up light heifers.
Cundalls Malton-based auctioneer Michael Harrison says steers remain a good trade and bigger heifers not far behind. But lighter or poorer types are more difficult to shift.
The tailing off of light heifer trade, however insidious, is due to higher charges for meat checks and offal disposal heaped on the slaughter trade, he believes.
"The regulations mean its costing the same to slaughter a heifer whether its big or small. Yet theres less carcass meat to spread costs over," he says. "It is the way most people are having to look at the job now."
That adds to the financial pressure on those small businesses who run their own slaughterhouse behind the shop, many of whom could be counted on a single hand in what was once a thriving area.
At last weeks auction at Malton, better heifers were making 90p/kg plus with poorer sorts back at between 80-85p/kg. "It has to be said a lot depends on quality, but bigger buyers are generally looking for a bit more flesh and finish."
The National Beef Associations Robert Forster agrees that slaughter weights need to be improved and this was brought to the attention of producers earlier this year.
Abattoir buyers need bigger sorts for processing. Ideally, heifers should be about 500kg and over to give a reasonable carcass of 250-260kg.
Producers are also losing out by finishing some heifers light; it undermines the potential of many beef cross heifers, says the NBA.
To achieve better weights, Mr Harrison suggests many of those finished less intensively as yearlings may have to be kept longer until they get the more weight and shape. "That can often be done with a season at grass."
Meat and Livestock Commission weekly figures last week highlighted trade in light heifers had fallen back 5p/kg on the week with medium and heavier sorts gaining over 1p/kg.
The weakening of prices is also being seen in the stores market, says Chris Clapham of Liskeard auctioneers Kivells. "Lighter heifers were trading at £220-£300 a head this week against heavier sorts at £350-£380 a head."
He suspects trade may slip further as the store sales traditionally ease this month, and thats likely to have a knock-on effect for the finishing end. "However, it doesnt suit all producers to finish heifers to these bigger weights." *