Dairy herd sale pulls in the buyers

Farmers protest against low milk prices at the ARLA Dairy, Stourton, Leeds. Picture Bruce Rollinson
Farmers protest against low milk prices at the ARLA Dairy, Stourton, Leeds. Picture Bruce Rollinson
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A sale of a top dairy herd raised bids at a level which belied the gloom in the industry.

Most dairy farmers selling off their stock do private deals but Chris Hardcastle and brother Richard wanted to be sure they were making every effort to get best prices for the pedigree Holstein herd which their late father, Ben, started 60 years ago.

Specialist dairy auctioneers Norton & Brooksbank travelled up from Stroud for the occasion, at Saltergate Hill Farm, Killinghall, two miles west of Harrogate.

Several dozen buyers, including serious breeders from Wales, Scotland and all over England, were among the crowd of a more than 200 which gathered for the interest and the chance to meet and swap notes.

The turn-out recognised a collection of top bloodstock with high health standards and the prices reflected that, at between 200gns and 300 guineas and a couple of thousand more than would be standard for a good-looking milker.

Top prices were below what might have been expected if the bidding was really hot, but Chris Hardcastle, 55, declared himself satisfied with the return for all the organisational effort.

However, there was not a farmer there who was not deeply concerned at milk prices. They pointed out the supermarkets were still quoting headline prices, for the minority of farmers on core supply contracts, and the returns on most pool milk remained below production costs.

A veteran farmer from the York area, with a son and two grandsons hoping to make a living out of his business, said: “You can’t wait until tomorrow. It takes three and a half years from buying semen for a new heifer to getting a return in milk. I’m here because I still want to be in business then.”

A spectator related to the Hardcastles said: “They had an inquiry about a private sale from a farmer in Cheshire who is building up to milk a thousand cows. That’s a £5m investment. You have to service that kind of money. But there is a real danger that a lot of smaller farmers will get out.”

The Hardcastles were selling all their current milkers and in-calf heifers, leaving only a few young stock to bring on. The current crisis was not part of their decision but years of disappointing returns were. Their children do not want the commitment of dairy and they will concentrate on beef and sheep from now on.

The 135 cows forward averaged just under £1,849 and 34 served heifers averaged £1,593.53p. Forty eight animals made more than 2,000 guineas and two sisters from the Miss America dam line made the top price of 3,500 guineas each.