Monday, February 26, 2024

Dairy-beef weaner profits on the moo-ve  

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Returns on calves are above and beyond expectations.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

As the first month of 2024 moves swiftly by, the tail-end of the dairy-beef weaner fair season has rolled around again for the regions of Taranaki, Waikato and Manawatū. Overall, returns on calves this season have surpassed the expectations of a lot of people in the industry. The current grass market and the effects of a reduced supply have not only elevated prices across the board but, most surprisingly, kept prices firm through the entirety of the season. 

Rearing calves in recent years has been nothing short of a battle against the odds. The rising cost of living and a weak cattle market post-covid had rearers struggling to sell calves above the cost of production for several years. 

It is apparent now that the reduced interest in calf rearing has had flow-on effects, reducing the current supply of cattle available for purchase in the store market across all ages.

Results from 2023 show that, more recently, weaner calves have been increasing in value as supply continues to build. It’s a well-known fact that the reduced supply has added a lot of pressure to procurement.  Now, in 2024, with throughput across Taranaki, Frankton and Feilding saleyards increasing since 2022, prices across the board for steers, bulls, and heifers have surpassed pre-2019 levels. 

PGG Wrightson agent Vaughn Larsen said this season of dairy-beef weaner fairs has been incredibly strong, right until the end, and he struggles to remember a time when beef calves had yielded such strong results.

“If we had more numbers, we would be carrying on, maybe even look at having weaner sales every week.  

“People are getting stuck into weaners. Whether that’s due to a kind growing season or that they are easier to feed when at risk of a drought, the demand for all classes of weaner calves is still going strong.” 

This is good news for those looking to wean their calves early to put cows into clean-up mode, and a long-awaited relief for rearers who decided to stick it out through the tough years. It will be interesting to see if this encourages an increase in throughput next year.  

In the first sales week of January 2024 at Taranaki saleyards, an increased supply was easily absorbed by current demand and attracted a large gallery of buyers. At the sales, 120kg dairy-beef bulls averaged $650, 130kg Friesian bulls fetched $605, and dairy-beef steers and heifers, 120kg, secured average prices of $605 and $480 respectively.

This time last year at Taranaki, dairy-beef calves faced similar market conditions. Our LivestockEye reported that in January 2023 the effect of the grass market had lifted buyer enthusiasm and values from the previous year. The average weight of dairy-beef calves in Taranaki has been similar across the past three years, but per-head prices have been increasing $50-$70 year on year.

At the Frankton saleyards the market found its level for 120kg dairy-beef bulls at $600. Friesian bulls on average weighed 130kg and returned $585, the weakest price of the three main saleyards this month. However, it was a $70 increase from the year prior, and 120kg dairy-beef heifers returned $485.

On January 18,  Frankton saleyards listed 714 calves. The average price for 125kg dairy-beef bull calves increased $55, to $655. Friesian bulls on average weighed 135kg and returned $620, and 125kg dairy-beef heifers returned $550. This was the strongest result for January across the three main saleyards.

This time last year at Frankton, the benchmark of pricing was a lot lower than current levels. The implication of a grass market was increasing prices on weaners week on week. Average weights were on the rise but still 10-15kg less than what they are now. 

The first dairy-beef weaner fair of 2024 at Feilding took place on the same day as Frankton’s most recent sale. The average price aligned with results at Frankton at $600. Friesian bulls weighed 135kg and received $615. Dairy-beef steers and heifers on average weighed 135kg and 130kg respectively. The steers returned an average price of $655 while the heifers made $535.

This time last year at Feilding, prices had stabilised but were overall performing in a lower price bracket compared to results from this year. Average weights were a bit more sporadic and 140kg dairy-beef steers received $650. Heifers, 125kg, returned $545, while the average price of bulls, 120-135kg, fetched $580-$595.


 In Focus Podcast: Full Show | 2 February 

Bryan talks with Dr John Caradus, chief executive of Grasslanz, about the growing calls to revisit our laws around genetic modification and editing. The European Union recently passed a major upgrade to its laws and Caradus says we’re now the only nation in the world working under such a strict regime. 

Federated Farmers president Wayne Langford also discusses his plan to bring the various farming voices together as Team Ag. 

And, senior reporter Richard Rennie discusses some new research that could bring good news to mānuka hone producers and also takes a look at how Hawke’s Bay fruit growers are faring.

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