Saturday, December 2, 2023

Good year for rearers of autumn-born calves

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There are no signs of any shortage of calf numbers coming through the yards – in fact, some yards have had a busier year in this department.
This pen of autumn-born weaner Simmental-Friesian bulls sold at the New Zealand Farmers Livestock Frankton sale on August 2. At 115kg, they made $675 or $5.87/kg.
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Autumn-born cattle usually come with a premium attached to them and this is certainly still the case this year. Feeder calf returns in autumn were strong in comparison to calf sales held through winter and into spring – and the determination of calf rearers at those autumn sales seems to be paying off for those north of the Central Plateau.

Autumn-born weaner attendance at store cattle sales around the country tends to concentrate in August, so now that we have stepped into September it is a good opportunity to take a look at how the numbers stack up. 

In terms of national throughput, 2023 figures don’t indicate there is any shortage of numbers coming through the yards. In fact, some yards have had a busier year in this department. Frankton is the largest yard covered by AgriHQ in terms of autumn-born weaner throughput and where August would usually see somewhere from 810 to 910 head pass through the yards, there have been 963 head put in front of buyers this year. There are no complaints of over-supply, however, and these have happily been snapped up.

The cost of rearing calves has been prominent in the media for the past couple of years, and it is the size of the cheque at weaning that determines whether it was worthwhile. 

For all makes and models, average per head returns for autumn-born weaners usually sit around $487-$519, so it is pleasing to see the average this year at $560. 

New Zealand Farmers Livestock agent Stuart Wells was happy to hear this and attributed it to several factors. 

“A lot of people got rid of cattle on the earlier schedules and though it got wet for a while, a drier August did help. People do just need cattle,” he said.

The other significant contributor was an improvement in quality. There are more exotic-cross types, which attract a premium. They include Belgian Blue, Charolais and Simmental. 

The average per kilogram return for autumn-born Friesian bulls sold at Frankton in August was $5.02/kg while the same figure for Belgian Blue-Friesian settled at $5.36/kg. 

The classic Hereford-Friesian is hard to beat, though, providing the markings are true to type. Autumn-born Hereford-Friesian bulls sold at the yards in August weighed 108-132kg and collected $620-$685, an average of $5.65/kg for the month.

If all regular vendors channelled their weaners through the yards, tallies would be sitting even higher, but plenty of demand has made paddock sales more common. One client of Wells sold only 20 heifers through Frankton this year and found homes for his 350 bulls in the paddock.

Unfortunately, the rest of the country isn’t following this trend and, in most cases, returns are sitting in line with those made last year. 

There haven’t been significant numbers sold through Feilding yet, but these will likely come in the next few weeks. 

PGG Wrightson agent Peter Forrest hasn’t been blown away by returns on paddock sales so far but, when considering the bull beef schedule compared to last year, he believes they are holding up okay. 

“Friesian bulls sold in the paddock have typically traded at $600-$635 and well-marked and grown Hereford-Friesian have made $600-$650. Hereford-Friesian heifers have traded from $500 to $600 depending on quality and size,” he said. 

One underlying factor possibly putting a cap on prices is the long period of wet weather and subsequent delay in feed growth. The grass is just starting to move in a positive direction, which should bring more buyers to the market.

Other discussions around weaners have often been directed at the expected lack of winter and spring-born weaners hitting the market once off the feeders. Some might wonder if the potential lack of supply is nudging some buyers to the market early. 

Whether or not this is the case, everyone has their fingers crossed for a productive spring so that those who have made the commitment to feeding calves can reap some sort of reward.

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