Calf prices slide to €40-€60 per head as marts' numbers increase

Seamus Scallan, Wicklow Cattle Company
Seamus Scallan, Wicklow Cattle Company
Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Calf prices have taken a hit this week with shipping-type Friesian bulls dropping back €40-60/hd as the numbers on offer rose sharply.

Mart managers in the south reported a definite easing in the trade over the last week as the number of plainer Friesians increased and shippers replaced farmers as the primary buyers.

The prices being offered for calves out of farmyards has also fallen this week, with farmers contacted by the Farming Independent reporting that €45-50/hd was the general offer for two to three-week-old Friesian bulls.

While farmers continued to give €80-120/hd for stronger Friesian bulls in some marts this week - and even up to €150/hd in exceptional cases - managers said this category of stock accounted for just 10-15pc of overall numbers and the calves had to be five to six weeks old. Shippers dominated the trade for plainer Friesian bulls, with €40-60/hd taking out the vast bulk of those bought for export.

A two-tier market was also reported by Jim Bushe from New Ross Mart. Mr Bushe said a significant price differential has opened up between "strong calves" and "soft" or younger calves.

The bulk of the shipper-type Friesian bulls sold for €40-60/hd, with poorer calves making as little as €30/hd and exporters paying a top of €80/hd. Stronger Friesian bulls made up to €120/hd, while six-week-old square British-Friesians made from €120/hd to €220/hd.

There was lively demand for continental bulls, with farmers generally paying €170-350/hd. However, up to €500 was paid for top quality Belgian Blue and Charolais bulls. Although 600 calves were on offer on Saturday last, Mr Bushe said numbers have been slower coming out than anticipated. In Kilkenny Mart shippers generally paid from €30-80/hd for Friesian bulls, depending on their age. Auctioneer, George Candler said €120-140/hd was paid by farmer buyers for the stronger Friesians, with Hereford bulls making €280-310/hd.

Seamus Scallan of Wicklow Calf Company attributed the drop in calf prices to increased numbers and the continuing uncertainty surrounding live exports.

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Mr Scallan said he paid between €50 and €110/hd last week for calves, depending on age, breed and the market for which the calves were destined.

Mr Scallan called on the Department of Agriculture to seek solutions to the restricted lairage capacity in Cherbourg which he claimed would seriously impact on the calf export trade from early March.

Lairage capacity at the port is limited to 4,000 calves per sailing or 12,000 calves per week. While this capacity level was not exceeded last year - when the maximum weekly number of calves shipped from the Republic was 11,700 during the second week in March - Mr Scallan predicted exports will be significantly higher this spring.

He pointed to compact calving patterns which mean more than 550,000 cows will be calved by the end of the month, slower farmer demand for dairy stock, and increased calf numbers out of Northern Ireland as the main drivers in what he claimed is likely to be a shorter export season. He warned that calf prices could be seriously hit if the lairage problems were not addressed by the end of the month.

Indo Farming

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