With livestock markets reporting a flying calf trade, and a quarter of a million calves going through the live sales ring every year in England and Wales, the live system represents the largest viable marketplace for dairy calves.
As the GB Dairy Calf Strategy identifies new outlets to ensure calves are utilised in the food chain, the live auction system continually adapts to re-shape marketing opportunities.
“There has been a shift from the number of dairy bred calves to beef, through vendors choosing a more strategic breeding programme. Stricter milk contracts also mean farmers must make more informed choices when selling livestock,” explains Harrison & Hetherington’s calf auctioneer, Paul Gardner, running the weekly Borderway calf sales alongside Joe Bowman.
Carlisle ring sees 350 calves sold on a weekly basis, some weeks seeing in excess of 450 calves forward, with 70% beef sired and 30% dairy.
“The live ring actively supports farmers in their choices, providing reassurance and feedback on how compliance to such standards is easily achieved, whilst giving the farmer access to the best markets possible for their calves,” he adds.
The Livestock Auctioneers’ Association (LAA) has instigated a new system in conjunction with Arla, introducing signed declarations confirming that calves purchased will not be killed within the first eight weeks of life.
“The live ring has the ability that no other marketing channel has for calves in the UK, providing a market for all types, breeds, age, and size of calf, whilst ensuring the best returns,” adds Joe Bowman. “We also provide vendors and buyers with weekly in-depth feedback on supply and demand trends.”
Will Alexander at Bentham Auction Mart adds, “We have buyers for all types, with a 100% clearance rate week in week out. This highlights the fact there is no ‘calf spec’ for a livestock market.”
The competitive open market, allowing for a bidding service from several bidders, is supported by additional advantages, according to Gisburn Auction Mart.
“Auctions offer higher welfare standards, trained staff, shorter journey times and an unbroken chain of farm assurance,” says Gisburn auctioneer Fred Spurgeon.
At the other end, the demand for dairy bred stores is aiding the prices in market for calves, with farmers constantly looking for replacements to rear.
“Livestock auctions allow farmer buyers the outlet to dip in and fill their requirements on a weekly basis,” says Gisburn store cattle auctioneer Jack Pickup.
“The live sales system is by far the biggest market outlet,” explains LAA executive secretary Chris Dodds.
“Importantly, it provides an outlet for all breeds, sizes and ages, and we have worked with processors to help vendors meet their requirements. Buyers are there, as the prices achieved continue to demonstrate.”