Saturday, December 2, 2023

Calf-rearing squeeze shows up in bullpen

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With fewer willing to take on calf rearing there is now, as predicted, a shallower pool of Friesian bulls for finishers.
The flow-on effect of fewer feeder calves being reared is now being felt in the older cattle pens at saleyards.
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It was this week last year that AgriHQ senior analyst Suz Bremner highlighted the decreased number of calf rearers willing to put in the hard yards under increased costs, and how this would impact on the availability of Friesian bulls for finishers. 

Now that we are well into the feeder calf season, it is a good opportunity to see if there has been any change in demand. It is also a chance to look at saleyard throughput of Friesian bulls in older age groups to investigate the impact on availability.

It is interesting to note that there was next to no difference in numbers of feeder calves at Frankton last Tuesday, at 1347 head, compared to the same sale last year. A good gallery of buyers attended, which helped to firm prices for better types, but the bottom tier of smaller crossbred calves were in less demand and a significant number traded at $40 or less. 

Prices compared to 2022 are slightly back for the better portion. Top Friesian bulls earned $120-$170, which was another $20-$30 back on the previous year and it was a similar story for Hereford-Friesian steers and heifers. 

On a positive note, last Monday’s results at Manfield Park shone next to the same sale last year, when the Friesian bull market collapsed due to lack of demand. Buyers this year were pushed up to $220 for top Friesian bull calves, a massive improvement from the couple of pens that struggled to break the $100 barrier in 2022. 

Bay of Plenty PGG Wrightson agent Finn Kamphorst noted that demand for Friesian bull calves and better dairy-beef options at his yards is good so far this year, but he expects this to wane by the end of August as their regular large-scale buyers fill up, many of these from out of the area. 

“We would like to see a few more wanting to rear 60-100 calves but there’s just not the margin in it for them. There are plenty of guys out there wanting to buy 100kg calves and put them out on grass, but not many willing to get them there due to the cost.” 

Some are starting to wonder if last year’s decrease in reared calves is showing up in saleyard tallies and there are some interesting findings. In the case of Friesian bulls, there are certainly fewer. 

The data for five North Island saleyards shows there have only been two months this year when weaner or R1 Friesian bull tallies have been greater than the corresponding month in 2022, these being February and March. In the cases of January, April and July, the decrease in throughput has hovered around 200 head per month. 

This means, as of the end of July, the availability of weaner and R1 Friesian bulls in these yards has been 17% less than in the previous year. Given that larger numbers of weaners head to the yards from October onwards, it is likely the gap will widen, and the percentage will increase as it did last year to a final drop of 25% on 2021 levels. 

Interestingly, the number of dairy-beef weaner and R1 cattle sold in these same five saleyards is tracking similar to previous years, but on closer inspection the real difference is in the few months from October onwards. 

Comparing throughput from October 2022 to now with the 12 months prior shows a drop of 2500 dairy-beef cattle in that first year, or 11% less than the season prior.

A tough winter for many in the North Island is expected to delay the start of the spring cattle season but this should be a reminder that, like last year, the pool of Friesian bulls and dairy-beef weaners will be shallower.

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