Saturday, December 9, 2023

Where the sales are, that’s where the calves will be

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Calves surmount logistical hurdles to come to the people, with East Coast beef weaners being joined by their Wairoa neighbours to make up one of the biggest fairs the country will see for the season.
An aerial view of the Gisborne Saleyards provides a picture of rural industry and calm, belying the logistical feats performed to get stock into yards in the region in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle. Photo: Phil Yeo
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The Matawhero beef weaner fairs are always a much-anticipated event, offering up some of the best hill-country traditional calves that New Zealand has to offer. This year, East Coast calves were joined by some of their Wairoa neighbours as access issues meant they could not make the usual journey south to Stortford Lodge, and holding a sale in Wairoa still created logistical issues. 

So, the calves went to the people and the extra numbers meant that the fair was one of the biggest the country would see for the season. It was split over two days, during which nearly 3800 mainly traditional calves went  under the hammer, with steers and bulls offered on Tuesday, March 28 and heifers the following day. 

The tally of 3800 was a decent number, but it wasn’t too far different from the combined total offered at the separate Matawhero and Wairoa sales last year. And even though the Wairoa calves boosted volume by over 1000-head, there were still several consignments on the east coast that could not make it to market, which balanced the tallies out.

There were still logistical challenges to be faced in both regions, and getting that many calves to sale was no easy feat, involving a lot of planning by farmers, trucking companies and stock agent companies, as well as buyers. 

One consignment of 300 calves from Ohuka had to be walked out, a distance of around 12km, to meet the truck. The sheer volume of the calves to be sold as well as the distance many needed to travel meant that they started arriving at the yards on Sunday night with five unit loads offloaded and supplemented with baleage until sale day.

For the regular vendors and buyers, it would have felt like flooding issues were becoming all too familiar; last year’s fairs were also hampered by flooding and both the Matawhero and Wairoa events were postponed to April dates to allow time for access issues to be resolved. 

This year’s floods, however, were on a much larger scale with the main access roads shut, and getting southern buyers to market created another challenge. But bidr came to the rescue, saving those that were happy to bid online a big trip to the yards, as well as providing a good viewing platform, with at least 170 watchers at one stage on Tuesday. 

Cattle at Matawhero are sold in the pens and lines weighed before the sale, either that day or the day before. Despite the access issues, a good crowd was on hand to follow the sale proceedings and Tuesday provided a nice day to be out on the rails, though the southerly change that was forecast meant a few extra layers were donned for the Wednesday heifer fair. 

PGG Wrightson regional manager Jamie Hayward had two big days at the yards, along with his team and Carrfields. Hayward said there were plenty of positives to come out of the fairs.

“We ticked off two big days and the markets were very positive. The cattle looked good, though weights were down on expected, probably due to too much wet and not enough sunshine,” Hayward said.

Comparing to the Matawhero results last year, the average traditional steer weight was down 5kg to 225kg but per head prices lifted $85 to $955, and most sold over a range of $850-$1150. The per kilogram average lifted 50c/kg to hit $4.26/kg. 

Five pens of Angus steers housed big tallies from 84-head up to 126 and these sold for a premium at $900-$1150, $4.14-$4.37/kg. Bull supply was down and that meant that the average weight managed to lift slightly. At 230kg, prices averaged $945 and $4.13/kg, up a similar level to the steers. 

Aside from a few lines of older cattle, weaner heifers had the yards to themselves on Wednesday and this market continued the path set by their brothers the previous day. More colour was added by exotic lines and both the traditional and exotic heifers’ average weights were 200kg, with the traditional lines slightly up but exotics down on last year. 

There was plenty of appetite for the exotic heifers and as a result prices lifted by the biggest margin at $120 per head, or 85c/kg. Traditional heifer line sizes were not as big, as replacements were kept at home. The biggest pens housed 40 to 45-head. The average per head price lifted $95 to $660 and most lines sold for $670-$855. 

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.

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