Sunday 25 September 2016

Spike in calf numbers piles pressure on prices

Published 09/02/2016 | 02:30

Bull calf prices have slipped.
Bull calf prices have slipped.

Calves from the dairy herd are likely to rise by another 100,000 this year, exposing already low calf prices to even further downward pressure.

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Bull calf prices for export slipped by another €10 to €65-110/hd in Bandon mart yesterday.

"There was a big increase to 800hd this week, but it will be double that by March. Prices could hold, but only if there's no hiccups with the boats," said mart manager, Tom McCarthy.

Prices at Bandon, Macroom and Kilmallock yesterday were at €65-150 for the light dairy bulls for export, €90-180 for the 'farmer types', €200-350 for Angus and Hereford bulls and heifers, and €280-400 for the continental bulls and heifers.

The projected increase in calvings comes on the back of a 100,000 head increase in dairy calvings in 2015, the equivalent of an 8.5pc increase to a total of 1.27m head.

In addition, dairy farmers that traditionally fed calves to cope with quota restraints will be keen to sell bull calves at a younger age.

However, Bord Bia's Joe Burke cautioned beef farmers keen to take advantage of the opportunity of getting dairy bull calves at "first cost".

"Rearing calves is a specialised enterprise. Facilities, feeding and stockmanship skills all need to be of a very high standard in order to hit the desired performance targets," noted the beef specialist.

Over 80pc of dairy cows calve during the first four months, but experts believe that the calving season will begin slightly earlier on many farms this year following the abolition of quota and a good breeding season in 2015.

While dairy farmers will be looking to export the majority of their dairy bull calves into Continental markets as quickly as possible, Mr Burke cautioned farmers to be aware of the regulations involved.

Export regulations

"Dairy farmers looking to supply the live-export trade should be aware that under EU export regulations calves need to a minimum of 15 days old before they can be exported. Calves aged between 15 and 35 days are of most interest to export buyers.

"The younger, lighter calves usually go to the Netherlands for veal, while the slightly older and stronger ones typically go for young bull beef production in Spain," he said.

The beef specialist also noted the limited outlets available for dairy crossbred calves.

"Crossbred calves with any Jersey influence are not popular among the key export markets, on account of slower growth rates, poor feed conversion efficiency rates and reduced kill-out percentages," said Mr Burke.

However, the majority of extra calves are likely to be beef sired, especially Hereford and Angus.

"Last year, the majority of the increase in registrations came from extra beef-sired calves out of the dairy herd. Numbers of beef-cross calves are expected to increase again this year. They command a valuable premium," he added.

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