Survival of vealers looks grim

Recent physical markets shows a decline in demand for vealers


What options do producers rearing prime vealers for the local trade market.


January is approaching, which will see the annual 2019 calf and female sales commence.

Frank Sofra, Whispering Pines,
breeds good quality Charolais
and Angus calves at Clyde North.

Frank Sofra, Whispering Pines, breeds good quality Charolais and Angus calves at Clyde North.

These sales in the North-East and Western District are an annual pilgrimage for many producers.

While the larger number of cattle sold are 6 to 11 month-old calves, some weaned, and some not, January also sees the annual F1 sales held.

Most of these are Angus-Friesian and Hereford-Friesian heifers, either with a European breed calf at foot, or at the point of calving.

For many years, these high quality cattle have been the highest price females sold in the January sales, as their calves always returned a premium price when sold.

While this remains the situation for a small, select number of European-cross vealers, many are selling to poor demand, and making less than some prime bullocks.

Stock & Land spoke with a few livestock agents this week, and although none wanted to be quoted, because they all have clients who sell such calves, they did admit that current price trends were tough.

One producer, who now sells his prime vealers direct, said that weight was an issue when achieving the best price.

Processors are offering better prices for vealers with a carcase weight over 220 kilograms, which can be tough in dry years such as this.

Only a select few of the best quality vealers, most of which weigh over 380kg liveweight, sell over 300c/kg.

Many vealers of good quality are only selling between 240-280c/kg, depending on their weight.

The lighter weight calves are potentially making the least money, as the retail trade has changed enormously over the past two years.

Compare this situation to good quality lines of steer and heifer calves being sold in store markets of late.

Leongatha, Bairnsdale, Pakenham, and Hamilton store markets held over the past 10 days have all had steers sell over 300c/kg, with some as high as 364c/kg.

Equally, some heifers have sold from 250-308c/kg lwt, which is vastly different to those sold in physical sales.

However, just three weeks ago, prime heifer vealers, around 260kg lwt, that were sold in at least two store markets, were purchased by processors for no more than 200c/kg.

Fortunately, this has changed for the better.

Not everyone can breed the same number, nor consistent weight that some others can, but many can produce top quality vealers in smaller numbers.

There is more work in producing these top quality vealers than fattening good quality steers or heifers.

With the local butcher now selling fewer small cuts of meat, and more stir fries and other pre-prepared products, fewer vealers are needed.

So where does a producer of prime vealers go, if they want a change?

Do they still have cows and calves, but breed Angus or Hereford calves?

Or do they get out of breeding altogether and fatten cattle instead?

One may ask, why have processor requirements changed?

Consider the change in costs to processors and retailers over the past few years.

Killing fees are the same for a small beast as a large one, and operating costs are higher too.

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