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Bio-secure routes to market supporting GB Dairy Calf Strategy

Posted on: 12th September, 2023

Orange markets providing a lifeline and helping maximise values

An increased number of bio-secure routes to market for TB-affected herds has not only provided a lifeline for some producers of dairy-bred calves, but has also helped maximise values, while supporting the aims and priorities of the GB Dairy Calf Strategy.

Through the support of the Livestock Auctioneers’ Association (LAA), Approved TB Dedicated Sales (Orange Markets) represent an important marketplace for TB-affected herds, and according to Robert Venner of Sedgemoor Auction Centre, are producing tremendous results.

“The orange markets in general are producing tremendous results for all cattle, with a diverse and solid trade. Although our calf numbers are relatively small, with between 20-50 through our orange markets, the sales produce much better results than vendors would face through forced sales on farm,” he explains.

Elsewhere, Frome Livestock Market initially focussed its orange markets on larger feeding cattle, prime cattle and cull cows. Driven by demand from dairy clients, it has now included a TB-restricted calf section on the same day.

“This has become a valuable lifeline to dairy farmers who need to sell calves. The TB-restricted markets are also very useful for producers with a smaller quantity of calves on an all-year-round calving system, as they can bring any amount to the sale,” explains Tom Rogers, calf auctioneer at Frome Market.

One Somerset-based dairy herd manager explains, ‘‘We have found the orange market to be a very useful outlet for calves during busier calving periods, when housing for dairy replacements must be prioritised.”

Communication with vendors and buyers is paramount to selling all categories of livestock, and that has proved to be the key to the TB-restricted sales, according to Mr Rogers.

For example, with the current decrease in farmgate dairy prices, markets such as Frome have seen producers looking to maximise calf prices. Providing advice and guidance on how best to manage and present stock is key to helping achieve those prices.

“Where possible, we encourage producers to focus on key aspects of calf management such as colostrum intake, time spent suckling a cow and presenting calves closer to 42 days of age to maximise the price achieved,” he explains.

Conversations with the auctioneer or fieldsman are encouraged before calves are catalogued. This enables the market to not only manage vendor expectations, but also ascertain the type of calves, and relay that information to prospective buyers.

By accurately describing the grade of calves, buyers can then plan to attend the sales relevant to them. This approach and two-way communication, works well for both producer and buyer alike.

Another Frome customer comments, “The TB-restricted calf markets have taken the hassle out of selling TB-restricted calves for us. Selling calves by auction enables us to offer calves to multiple purchasers which maximises value.  Communication from the auctioneer has proved key to achieving a fair value for our calves.’’

True market value

Market Drayton Market hosts the biggest TB-restricted market for calves in the country, with some 200-400 calves a month through the sales ring, pulling in at least 8-10 buyers/outlets at each sale.

“What we have seen is the orange market providing a lifeline for some of our vendors,” says Jonty Cliffe, Market Drayton Market calf auctioneer.

Mr Cliffe cited the scenario of a farmer close to having TB-restrictions lifted, and who was therefore retaining calves to potentially sell through the open market.

“It only needs one TB-reactor, and the farmer is instantly over-stocked and needing a marketplace for that stock. The orange market is the only sales option that will provide a respectable price at true market value,” he explains.

“It gives the seller the confidence that they can achieve a fair price, as we have the right people around the ring. We have certainly seen that confidence from dairy farmers develop more so over the past two-years.”

This additional bio-secure route to market through the auction system, alongside the thriving open calf sales across England and Wales, strongly supports the aims of the GB Dairy Calf Strategy.