Analyst Intel

30 August 2019

ACROSS THE RAILS | South Island calf pens are ghost towns

By Suz Bremner Suz Bremner

With dairy calving well through now feeder calf sales should be a regular event for rearers. The North Island is trading calves as normal with yards busy but those in the larger Canterbury area resemble ghost towns. It is yet another tragedy of Mycoplasma bovis with fewer calves being sold on the open market and a sharp increase in private sales as buyers go directly to reputable and Mycoplasma-free sources.

Calf rearing has always been a good, entry-level farming option but with little to no interest from the North Island this year the security of on-selling is limited. PGG Wrightson South Island dairy manager Barry Fox said that is having a big impact on the South Island feeder calf market. “The Friesian bull market is affected due to a lack of interest in 100kg contracts from the North Island for November-December delivery. Rearers need the security of the contracts but that is not there this year.” Fox says the bobby calf kill is slightly ahead of last year, which makes sense given the situation.

The South Island calves make up a large percentage of the Friesian bulls that are finished and without them in the system, it begs the question of what supply will be like come autumn, when the finishers look for stock. Prices are always at the mercy of a variety of factors such as weather, feed levels and overseas demand but the lack of calves reared now will add yet another element to that.

The North Island calf sales have largely been business as usual though PGG Wrightson agent Simon Rouse said there are a few less people looking to rear calves in Bay of Plenty this year, especially Friesian bulls. The lack of interest in South Island calves should mean a lift for their northern friends but that does not appear to be the case since there is caution around the volatility of the bull market. Prices are back on the last few years though there is still good demand for beef-dairy calves.