Rearing Calves Rachel Capstick, Auctioneer

20th March 2015

Good quality, well grown continental calves are enjoying an excellent trade at Gisburn Auction Mart, Lancashire/Yorkshire border weekly calf sale.

Last Thursday, of the 171 forward, British Blue crosses accounted for 50 of them, selling to a high of £490, with 20 bulls above £400. Blue heifers peaked at £478 and averaged £373. Dairy bull calves creep up in value every week - consistently around the £100 mark for standard types and £200 for good square blacker Friesian sorts.

Year on year our throughput of calf numbers is maintained and comparing the same week with last year, not a single breed didn't show a significant average price boost - black and white bulls +£25, Blue Bulls +£63 and Blue Heifers +£78.

A combination of factors have led to the rise in trade which is especially appreciated by Gisburn's core client base of family run dairy farms, who increasingly see the value of calf and cull sales as an integral part of their business, rather than being entirely reliant on the milk price!

The decline in the national suckler herd has caused continental heifer calf demand to rocket. Lower corn prices have made it more attractive to arable men to finish cattle again. There is a noticeable ringside presence of farmer buyers, who have left dairying, but still keen to keep cattle. The popularity of native breeds with named sires is driven by fattening scheme financial incentives.

The majority of the continental calves sold nowadays at Gisburn are sired by a British Blue. The growth in use of sexed dairy semen has allowed increased utilisation of British Blue semen in any second quality dairy cows. We have a number of local vendors who are staunch Simmental and Limousin fans. Buyers return regularly as they are unable to source the quality and numbers in other markets. The old adage is true; numbers bring buyers.

In our area, there are still many family dairy farms where the cattle are not as extreme Holstein, resulting in a superior conformation calf. Most of our calves are at least a month old at the point of sale and come from high health scheme, fully vaccinated herds. We are also fortunate to be located in a 4 year TB testing area.

Rearing calf throughput will rely to an extent on the rise and fall of milk production in the dairy cow sector. Without milk quotas and a low milk price we may see further small dairy herds disperse and large units produce more milk to combat price reduction.