Analyst Intel

29 May 2020

ACROSS THE RAILS | In tough times farmers look for tough cattle

By Suz Bremner

Something was bound to give the markets a shake-up as we’ve had a good run over the last few years but who would have picked it to be combination of a pandemic and drought ... not me. Not surprisingly, this year’s post-lockdown prices have been dramatically affected and while last year’s prices were regularly flying well above $3/kg it would be unfair to make comparisons with those results given there are unusual influences that have affected this year’s market. 

So, it is best to look at what is laid out in front of us as a stand-alone and there are a few points that have clearly stood out – calf weights are down because of feed struggles essentially since birth and while demand for traditional and exotic weaner cattle has been better than expected the dairy-beef market has not enjoyed the same attraction.

Compared to typical averages at the sale yards, weights across most classes of calves have been down by 20-40kg though we need to remember some of the better annual draft lines have been sold in the paddock.

In tough times buyers will look for the tough cattle to carry through winter and there has been a clear preference for traditional and exotic cattle over dairy-beef. The former have exceeded expectations, which, to be fair, were not overly high given the uncertainty in the market whereas vendors of Friesian bulls and dairy-beef heifers are having to meet the market. As an example, a common weight range for weaners this year has been 180-200kg and in that range traditional steers have traded at $550-$650 and heifers $420-$520 while Friesian bulls have made $400-$475. Dairy-beef heifers tend to be lighter and 150-170kg have mostly traded at $345-$380 with some exceptions to the rule.  

Within breeds the focus is on the top-end lines with small calves selling to limited interest. Prices $3/kg and slightly higher are limited to just the very best in the traditional and exotic pens where, typically, lighter end calves tend to sell for higher prices given that per-head budgets are more of a focus. But this year those lighter calves are too long-term for many to consider so their prices are lower.