So this year there is a real calf price gap opening up depending on calf quality in the marts.

There are a number of changes driving this gap. Some 30,000 lower-value calves that otherwise would have been slaughtered are now probably going into a mart.

The use of more sexed semen in dairy herds means there are fewer black and white bull calves around, so proportionately there are more beef-cross calves in marts. Both these changes could mean an additional 100,000 beef-cross calves in marts this spring compared to last year.

The average price of a Friesian, Angus or Hereford is almost exactly the same when we look at the price for last week compared to the previous year.

In 2023, the older Friesian made €53 on average, the Angus €164, and the Hereford €196. In the same week this year, the Friesian made €46, the Angus €161 and the Hereford €201.

Tommy Moyles reported online on Monday that there were about 2,100 calves on offer in Bandon on Monday (see Just shy of 10%, about 175 calves, sold for €5 each.

They were a mix of Friesian, Angus-cross, Hereford-cross and Friesian-cross calves.

However, as we know, average figures can cover up a lot. At the same sale, a six-week-old Hereford calf, well done, commanded over €300 a head, while a 17-day-old Hereford sold for as little as €5.

So that €300 gap between calf values can be partly explained by the milk value.

It costs about €2.50 per head per day in milk alone to feed a calf, so for the gap of 25 days in age that’s €60 per calf.

If ‘age’ is the only difference, then the young calf could present a great opportunity for the buyer. If, however, there are more differences than just ‘age’, then this would explain more of the price gap.

Farmers have learned the hard way over the last number of years that even if a calf is a Hereford or an Angus, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will make a 280kg or a 300kg carcase in 20 months’ time. Some will make a 240kg carcase at 17 or 18 months of age and the animal is fleshed as far as it can go.

Farmers will describe them as ‘fat and butty’, they can go overfat quickly and incur penalties at the factory. If, when selling that type of animal, beef price is low, carcase yield is low, and they incur penalties then that type of an animal leaves a poor margin for both the farmer and the factory.

If you had reared a calf that was achieving a 300kg carcase in more or less the same timeframe, it means you have an additional 60kg of carcase selling at €5/kg, which is potentially at least €300 per head more output than the ‘fat and butty’ animal.

This is why there is a big price gap opening up between coloured calves.

CBV index

The commercial beef value (CBV) index takes into account the genetics of the dam and sire. Now that this information is available and more marts are showing the breed of the dam, the calf weight and the CBV figure – is the CBV driving the difference in price wider?

Honestly, I think the CBV has yet to kick in properly, so that’s a no. Some big marts are still not even showing this CBV figure yet.

However, more information is definitely helping to inform buyers about what is important and it is explaining more of the difference.

The Friesian trade is good this week – weather and exporter demand largely decide this market

The CBV research by Teagasc’s Nicky Byrne has shown there can be a €100 per head difference in net margin between a black calf with a CBV of €60 versus a black calf with a CBV of €95.

Stocked at three to the hectare, that’s a €300/ha net margin difference.

The Friesian versus coloured calf research, again by Byrne, has shown that there can be a difference of €140 per head in the net margin when you finish a Friesian with a CBV of €1 relative to an Angus with a CBV of €95. If you stock them at three to the hectare, that’s €450 more of a net margin per hectare. The margin difference is largely driven by a longer finishing period for the Friesian.

So if a young black calf with a CBV of €100 comes into the calf ring and is making €5, alongside a Friesian calf with a CBV of €1 also making €5, you can make €140 more margin on the black calf, and €450 more per hectare if stocked at three to the hectare.

Friesian trade

The Friesian trade is good this week – weather and exporter demand largely decide this market. Will the Dutch outlet for veal continue? I think it’s fair to assume that given the environmental concerns in the Netherlands, these farmers and those calf-rearing businesses will be under pressure to survive.

More on that next week.