Better prospects for Waikato calf rearers
Prospects may be looking up for calf rearers in the Waikato region after two tough seasons dominated by tough climatic conditions and uncertain prices.
Some rearers shifted to only contract rearing heifer calves for dairy farmers and others left the industry altogether.
Rearers are not rearing as many friesian bull calves as previous years.
Large-scale rearer Ian Farrelly said the number of bull calves available for sale was down on last year because farmers were selling them as bobby calves.
There was also less demand for reared bulls because the drought has resulted in more farmers seeking dairy support land that was used in the past to graze these bulls, he said.
"One of my agents said there were 30,000 less calves being reared from people he deals with and that's just in the greater Waikato and that's mainly friesian bulls."
That was reflected in the numbers of calves yarded at the local saleyards, which was down on last year, PGG Wrightson Waikato livestock manager Dean Evans said.
"The rearers aren't doing as many friesian bull calves unless they can get a contract. They are a bit nervous and are looking at alternatives like bull-beef calves or dairy heifer calves because they got burnt last year on price."
The low numbers could see improved demand for reared calves this season and a lift in the store market as prices for weaner bulls had remained static for the past two seasons.
"In the last two years I don't think farmers having been paying enough for weaner bulls and the price hasn't gone up for a few years so the schedule has," he said.
The price uncertainty of the past two seasons resulted in Farrelly contracting 70 per cent of his calves this season with the remaining 30 per cent sold on the open market.
Those contracts were negotiated mostly in the past month with regular clients because he wanted to wait to see what the prices on offer were.
Aside from the purchasing price, it costs Farelly about $200 to rear a four- day-old calf and they are sold for a maximum $380.
Farrelly generally buys his calves from the saleyards and this season and last year reared 10,000 calves starting in the autumn. These include friesian bulls, heifers and dairy-beef calves.
He was fortunate as his Te Awamutu operation had lots of land and his large scale meant he could ride out the tough years.
"But with the schedule and the outlook for beef pretty good, there might be a slight swing back [in prices] but I don't think there will be the calf crop reared this year."
Te Awamutu rearer Mark Bocock said the uncertainty of the past few seasons had seen him move almost entirely to contracts.
"We're happy where we are at. We are doing more heifers as dairy replacement stock because the friesian bull contracts weren't out there earlier on."
He estimated about 90-95 per cent of his calves would be fully contracted by the end of the season.
Bocock has got 2900 calves on his farm so far and will end up rearing about 3500 calves by the end of the season. This is back from the 4000 he reared last year.
He said the costs to rear calves were about the same as last year.
The price of meal had lifted slightly while the price of milk powder had dropped.
The drop in calves being reared meant farmers that had not contracted young stock expecting to purchase these animals at a low price later this year on the open market could miss out.
Like most rearers, Bocock did not contract all of his calves last year and got burnt on the open market.
"There won't be as many as last year for the open market because the rearers and anyone rearing them last year took a hiding on them."
Many of the calves presented for sale early in the season were not up to his specifications.
Bocock said this was because their mothers were not in their best condition due to the feed shortage in January- February.
This affected the placenta while those calves were growing inside the cow.
He was positive about the outlook for this season.
"The weather's been great, the grass conditions are great, the schedule's great and there is no reason why everything shouldn't pan out."
WD Farming rearer Wayne Derrick said their season had gone really well. He is rearing 730 heifer calves for Fonterra and will rear 800-850 in total on his farm near Morrinsville.
"We have had an exceptionally awesome run. We have no health issues.
Another rearer, Jonathan Leigh of Top Notch Calves contract rears heifer calves for dairy farmers.
"Our season is going brilliantly with heifer calves coming in on behalf of dairy farmers.
"We have lost one out of 2000 so it's gone pretty good so far."