The beef weaner fair season is upon us again and, though slightly delayed by Cyclone Gabrielle, the markets have proved to be as strong as the record year of 2018. The fairs have kicked off in the North Island and will continue until early May. South Island calf sales will start from mid-March, so for now the focus is very much on the North Island.
A strong North Island season was anticipated, given the abundance of feed around and the expectation that supply of beef weaners would be lower as changes to farm policies and farm sales really start to bite into national beef herd numbers.
North Island schedule pricing is also slightly higher this year than 2018 and so it seems appropriate that the start to this season was able to match the record levels set in that year. It did come as somewhat of a surprise though, and those that follow the fairs closely know that anything can change from the early weaner fairs through to the more mainstream events.
Total tallies since 2009 at these early weaner fairs for North Island yards covered by AgriHQ’s LivestockEye reports have fluctuated within a range of 2400 to 4000-head (heifer and steer tallies). This year’s total to date is 2870, the second lowest tally over that period and down from 3800 last year.
Some of that reduction can be attributed to Cyclone Gabrielle and the access issues created in its aftermath, and some of the calves that usually arrive at the early fairs will still appear later in the season. But that still doesn’t hide the fact that there are fewer around, and some fairs have been permanently delayed a week or two to better cater to farmers who wean a bit later. Once the season ends the total throughput will be telling.
From a bird’s eye view of the early North Island weaner fairs, prices for both the traditional and exotic steers and heifers that dominate these yardings are up on last year – for steers the lift has been $115 or nearly 50c/kg and heifers $90 and 44c/kg. Average weight variations over the period from 2009 to 2023 have fluctuated from 227-253kg for steers and 195-223kg for heifers with this year’s very much finding middle ground in those ranges.
At an average of $980 for steers, the 2023 per head price rivals $993 posted in 2018, while an average of $785 for heifers is the highest recorded, comparative only to $775 in 2016. The lowest average values recorded since 2009 were in 2013 when steers averaged $560 and heifers $427. Astute bidding over the years has meant that steer and heifer prices follow a very similar path, albeit with heifers at a lower trajectory or discount of 36-42c/kg ($132-$200). However, heifers now easily outprice what people were paying for steers 10 years ago.
While the beef weaner fair season is just getting going, the dairy-beef season is coming to a close and will kick back in from October. Results posted for the first three months of this year (from North Island saleyards covered by AgriHQ LivestockEye reports) comparative to the same period back to 2016, have been the best so far. Dairy-beef steers have averaged 195kg – which is significantly higher than previous years – and $796 per head, while heifers averaged 160kg and $639. The weaner Friesian bull market can be fickle, often selling at similar levels to dairy-beef heifers, but this year it really found its stride.
For an average weight of 154kg, per head prices lifted to the highest levels since 2016 at $662 and up from $530 in 2022. Relative to previous years these levels are up $60-$100, which reflects the fact that a shortage of calves created by fewer feeder calves being reared has unbalanced the supply and demand equation, as well as the flow-on effect of better returns on finished bulls.
The data in this article was provided by AgriHQ analyst Suz Bremner. Suz leads the AgriHQ LivestockEye team, including data collectors who are tasked with being on the ground at sale yards throughout the country. Read more about the yards AgriHQ covers in their LivestockEye reports here.