UK - Northern Ireland’s beef farmers are faced with selling dairy sired bull calves at half the price of last year, with some going for £10 a head.
Through 2012, a price bracket of £60-100 was typically quoted but, this year, farmers are lucky to get £50, according to the latest insights from the Livestock and Meat Commission Northern Ireland.
They say that although there has been a six per cent contraction in calf numbers, domestic demand has fallen even more substantially this spring.
Poor summer breeding conditions last year have been blamed for lowering cow suckler herd fertility. Calf registrations have dropped by more than 15,000 this year between January and the start of June.
Reasons for the drop in demand from local beef units are manifold, as are the reasons why shippers are receiving greater interest for calves from abroad, say LMC analysts.
Calf export figures this year have recketed 22 per cent on the same period in 2012. Already over 10,500 calves have been shipped this year with 88 per cent heading to Spain.
Italy (6.5 per cent) and Eire (5.1 per cent) make up the other major buyers who, like Spain, are benefiting from a strong Eurozone against the UK’s sterling.
Poor spring grass growth and a prevalence of Holstein genetics in Northern Ireland’s dairy sired calves means farmers are faced with the prospects of high feed costs for animals with poor conformation characteristics.
In addition to production costs, marketing wiry Holstein bull calves is another complication due to current processor demands.
Consequently, trade within the country has declined as beef farmers are not interested in buying a bull calf that cannot be grown and finished on concentrates profitably. The LMC added that recent grass growth problems, extending back to last summer, have disuaded beef farmers from grass rearing dairy calves.
The Livestock and Meat Commission has attributed strong continental demand for black and white calves to input costs.
In Spain, Friesian bulls are largely fed ad-lib cereals and straw and reared on a 12 month bull beef system. Economics of the different countries mean this is more profitable in Spain.
Over in Italy it is the veal market that prompts calf buying. This is up to 6.5 per cent of total calf exports.