We are well past the halfway point of the calf sale season in the South Island and it is time to check how they have been stacking up next to previous years.
It has been a tricky season to get a grasp on things as the weather has been fairly abnormal, not delivering any consistent pattern comparable to previous seasons. The outcome has been favorable for some regions’ calf sales, though not for others. But they have been positive regardless and have improved as the season has progressed.
The opening week of calf sales is usually a good indicator for how the rest of the season plays out. Good rainfall supported by some warmth in South Canterbury meant they got dealt the best hand of the weather with some great autumn growth. Buyers couldn’t wait to get their hands on calves and were particularly confident in paying a bit more for traditional calves from well-known vendors.
However, it wasn’t the same flying start in Otago and Southland, who had a tough start to autumn. After a particularly dry end to summer, the rain came but not enough to give a really good soaking. Pasture growth was minimal, and buyers were reluctant to take on too many calves at once, if any, until there was some more certainty in grass growth. As a result, it was clear that calves from these regions have also been 20-30kg behind in weight due to feed-related earlier weaning and cows not milking well.
Pricing at the early sales kicked off slightly weaker than the North Island averages of around $4/kg, which is typical of the South Island, but buyers and vendors were still happy. The kind season in Canterbury really helped the condition of calves, and returns were at least $50 a head stronger than last year. Steers were averaging $3.40- $3.50/kg and heifers 30c/kg behind.
A few weeks in and a bit more rain arrived. With it came more confidence in margins, particularly for those at the bottom of the island. By the end of March pricing had strengthened further and steers were consistently upwards of $3.85/kg.
Calf sales have been dominated by Angus this season and the quality has been a real credit to the Angus breeders and associations. On several occasions the stand-out, hotly contested pens have contained Angus steers that have managed $900-$1230, dependent on weight.
Now well into April and the market has grown in confidence even further. Steers have been consistently over $4/kg, up to 40c/kg stronger than last year. Heifers have snuck up too and buyers would expect to pay at least $3.30/kg. The demand for heifers this season has been a touch softer, with thoughts that maybe the end to the live-export boats may have something to do with it.
In terms of buying demographics, the North Island has continued to add to the competition this year, even though this year they haven’t had quite the same smooth sailings. Strong demand coming out of Canterbury has meant the locals have not gone down without a fight and a few less calves have got on the ferry heading north.
Much of the calf-selling action will wind up in the coming week. Even though the weather has thrown some curveballs, like it always does in this industry, things work out in the end and vendors will be looking back on a successful 2023.
This article was written by AgriHQ analyst Sarah Hillhorst. Sarah’s reports provide key insights into what makes our sheep and beef markets tick. Subscribe to AgriHQ reports here.