Rearers are snapping up calves again
By Tim Relf
RENEWED interest from rearers has driven calf prices up sharply.
At markets, rearers are outbidding slaughter scheme buyers for virtually all Continental calves and for the better dairy-bred calves.
Just like the old days, says auctioneer Charles Matthews, having seen rearer-buyers from Scotland and Wales attend Sturminster Newtons sale on Monday. There, the days top price Friesian was £138.
According to Keith Rose, at Northampton, tight supplies are behind the hike in values. "Some of the cows killed under the over-30-month scheme would have been pregnant. Now there is the accelerated cull, too."
The maximum price scheme buyers are prepared to bid is limited by the compensation rate of £97 and £121 for dairy and Continental sorts, respectively. "They can only give a certain price to get a certain price," says Mr Rose.
At Gloucester mart, auctioneer John Pullin says about 20% of the black-and-whites went to rearers on Monday. Last year, 2% would have been more typical.
With no upturn in finished beef prices evident, the change reflects the view that beef will soon be in short supply, says Mr Pullin.
Most of the Charolais bulls made over £220 at Gloucester on Monday, with a top bid of £328.
Heifer values have also improved. "Even plain Hereford heifers, which a month ago would have been under £50, are worth £80 now." Some may, suggests Mr Pullin, be heading for suckler herds as breeding stock.
Ken Pritchard, who sells at Market Drayton, Shropshire, says demand is strong with farmers traditionally sourcing calves at this time of year. "In the past, many would have liked to have reared beef, but the export trade kept them out of the market."
Scheme buyers are prepared to bid to nearly £100 for dairy bred calves and about £115 for Continentals, says Mr Pritchard.
Suggestions of future beef shortages echo the Meat and Livestock Commissions recent warning that supplies in 1998 could be hit by the calf processing scheme, which could kill 650,000 head this year.