Heifer prices: a new paradigm?

by Sunday News Online | Sunday, Oct 29, 2017 | 1020 views


Mhlupheki Dube

ON Friday I attended the traditional annual bull sale from one of the celebrated breeders in the country and as usual it is always an awesome experience for a livestock enthusiast.

This is an event that is held every end of October each year and it never runs out of inspiring moments for both established and upcoming farmers. One thing that keeps coming out clear at the auctions is that people are always ready and willing to pay two arms and a leg for a quality product.

Also as farmers we need to build our own brands and this is not an overnight thing. It takes several years and generations but once the brand is established the fruits are all yours to harvest. The brand is a guarantee in itself and buyers have no hesitation in digging deeper into their pockets and comfortably part with a semi fortune in full knowledge that the animal will perform as advertised.

What you see and buy is what you get. How many farmers can say that about their product? Most of us are very happy and eager to sell to unknown people so that there is no chance of a product recall in case of a poor performance.

We are very happy to invoke the “voetstots” clause in our agreement of sale because we are selling a suspect product. However, what is interesting about the two breeding sales which were held this year in Matabeleland is that heifers have gone up in price by a surprising magnitude.

We have heifers now selling for prices higher than some bulls on the market which is a misnomer in a way because bulls also sell for way above heifers.
Heifers have always sold for around $1 200 to $1 500 but this year we had heifers that we sold for around $3 000.

The question is why? The market is obviously responding to certain shocks which could be hidden for now but will soon emerge.

A bull selling for $3 000 or more has always been normal and expected but not heifers. What is stimulating the heifer prices? Is the market starved of heifers to the extent that one buyer bids ferociously and furiously to walk away with almost a hundred cows and heifers?

Is it a sign of increased interest in livestock farmers and hence there are always new entries of people wishing to establish their herds?

It is important to ask such questions when there is a deviation from the normal trends as this helps us understand the industry much better and hence make better decisions.

My take is that there is probably a shortage of good quality heifers in the market and hence those intending to buy must be willing to bleed as the laws of supply and demand take command of the economics.

This may not be very far from the truth because the livestock industry is seriously starved of breeders as most farmers are just commercial producers, not breeders.

Breeders are farmers who go through a thorough and meticulous process of selection and controlled breeding to produce animals of selected desirable production traits.

Whereas with ordinary farmers a calf is a calf period! I can count less than five breeders in Matabeleland and therefore it may not be a stretch to postulate that they are failing to satiate the market hence the sudden ballooning of the prices for heifers.

Another reason could be that the two sales by the breeders in Matabeleland came when there is panic in the market. It could be possible therefore that the prices are being pushed not by keen livestock farmers but people who are desperate to take their money outside the banking system and are therefore willing to spend extravagantly for as long as it will take their money from the bank. Whatever is causing the price hike one thing to celebrate is that it is good for the farmer. Who doesn’t want to sell his one-year-old heifer for $3 000? After all has been said and done, a take away lesson remains that good quality pays and pays very well!

Uyabonga umntaMaKhumalo.

Feedback mazikelana@gmail.com/ 0772851275.

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