Strong farmer demand driving early calf sales

Stock Image.
Stock Image.
Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Lively demand and fine prices are reported in early calf sales, despite growing fears that a combination of restricted lairage capacity and shipping schedules could seriously hit the live export trade this spring.

Strong farmer buying has underpinned the trade over the last fortnight, but a marked price divide has opened up between calves that are four and five weeks old, and younger stock.

Jim Bushe of New Ross Mart said there was "very good demand" for the 490 calves on offer at the Co Wexford sale on Saturday, with farmers taking the older and dearer animals and the exporters buying the plainer and younger stock.

Farmers were looking for good older Friesians and quality continental crosses, with continental bulls generally selling from €300/hd to €400/hd. A top price of €485 was paid for a Belgian Blue bull. Older Friesian bulls ranged from €130/hd to €195/hd, with farmers doing all the buying for these.

The majority of Angus and Hereford bulls sold for €150-270/hd, with good quality Herefords making up to €350/hd.

Shippers bought around 200 calves, paying between €50 and €130 for Friesian bulls, with the weaker prices paid for those younger calves. Angus heifers were also in demand for export, with €150-240/hd paid.


Meanwhile, just €10-30/hd was paid for the small number of Jersey bulls on offer, and Mr Bushe expressed concern that there would be far fewer takers for these animals as the numbers increased.

A two-tier market was also reported in Bandon Mart, with Tom McCarthy reporting "good calves did well but the lighter ones were under pressure".

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Older 'farmer-type' Friesian bulls sold for €90-165/hd, while 'shipper-type' bulls generally made €50-90/hd. Hereford and Angus bulls sold for €150-300/hd, with heifers making €120-260/hd. The big numbers have still to come out in Kilmallock, Denis Kirby explained. However, he said there was strong demand, with Friesian bulls making €50-140/hd.

With around 550,000 calves forecast to hit the ground on dairy farms by the end of February, the marts expect a surge in numbers over the next fortnight. New Ross will be holding a second sale on a Tuesday.

Tighter calving patterns and the use of shorter gestation bulls mean one-third of dairy cows will calve this month. Live shippers have warned of serious difficulties getting numbers of calves exported this year, as capacity from now to the middle of May will be restricted to 12,000hd per week due to restricted lairage capacity in Cherbourg, and ferry schedules which see Irish Ferries and Stena Lines sailing on the same days.

A spokesman for the minister said Department officials are in discussions with commercial transport providers to "maximise" live export prospects for the season.

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