Saturday, April 13, 2024

Calf-rearing perseverance is paying off

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Those who stuck it out against the odds have scored a small and well-deserved win at the saleyards
This pen of 23 Friesian bulls at the October 26 weaner fair at Frankton averaged 111kg and made $570, $5.14/kg.
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The lower supply of dairy-beef weaners last year is starting to show through in yearling supply now that the grass is taking off, and the 2023 season looks to be following a similar path. 

It has been a good start to the season with positive results, but it will be interesting to see how things progress as peak throughput hits through November. For now, it is a small and well-deserved win for calf rearers.

To assess the market environment this year, data from seven fairs across Frankton, Taranaki, Rangiuru and Feilding has been compared and the findings confirm suspicions that supply is low once again.

Total throughput of spring-born weaners at these yards from mid-October to mid-December was above 21,000-head for the 2019-2021 period. It was last year that figures came in just shy of 16,000-head as increased rearing costs meant some farmers exited calf rearing. 

The running total at the end of the first week of November in 2021 and 2022 sat at 24% of the total of the mentioned period. If this pattern were to continue, the figure for 2023 come mid-December should once again be around 16,000-head of spring-born weaners. 

There has been a positive impact from fewer calves being reared and that’s on quality. New Zealand Farmers Livestock agent Brent Bougen commented that what they are seeing at Frankton in Waikato is “generally a better calf, particularly in the autumn-born lines, which have had good grass all the way through and are better bred. There are a few more exotic-cross types coming through, such as Charolais-cross, and the true whiteface Hereford-Friesian and Friesian bulls are still sought after.” 

Weaner fairs at Frankton haven’t thrown any big surprises out so far, with average throughput and regular regions represented on the buying bench. 

“Buyers have turned up as the grass has grown,” Bougen said. 

At the start of November, Northland buyers were very active at both Frankton and Taranaki fairs, where bull tallies were high, and this put the pressure on local buyers. The day before, however, Rangiuru missed buyers from that neck of the woods and that showed in bull returns. 

With three fairs under its belt, Frankton saleyards has hosted a significant number of Friesian bulls and returns have been positive. Comparing the November 2 sale to the same in 2022 shows a $22 per head lift in returns. 

Per kilogram returns make interesting reading too. At the first fair held at Frankton, the average per kilogram return was $5.24/kg, up from $4.82/kg last year. This was driven by higher per-head values, up $35, and a lower average weight by 5kg, down to 100kg even. 

“The better end of the whiteface and Friesian bulls have always sold well. Those around 100kg and lighter are getting a little tougher as we progress,” said Bougen. 

At the time of going to print, Frankton was busy yarding 1600-1700 weaners for the fourth fair, typically one of the largest, and Bougen was wary that the jump in supply could test demand.

At the first Frankton fair, spring-born dairy-beef bulls and heifers posted heavier average weights, but this didn’t put a halt to an increase in per kilogram returns as they lifted 35c/kg for bulls and 55c/kg for heifers. This meant a solid lift in the average per head return by $80 for bulls and $75 for the heifers to $605 and $460 respectively. 

For the rearers willing to stick it out under trying financial conditions, it looks as if the hard work has paid off.

The call to rear Jersey bulls also played out well for the few who did. 

“There has been a shortage of yearling Jersey bulls in the last year or so and people are buying weaners as they look ahead to the future”, Bougen said when asked about the $610-$650 returns seen at Frankton on November 2. 

The three pens of Jersey bulls that achieved this averaged 90-96kg, which put per-kilogram returns at a whopping $6.67-$7.07/kg. 

“It will be interesting to see whether a few more get reared,” Bougen said.

This article was written by AgriHQ analyst Fiona Quarrie. Subscribe to AgriHQ reports here.

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