Reduced numbers available and a dry spring, coupled with the continued, albeit reduced lockdown restrictions on travel, have combined to bolster fresh dairy heifer prices in the market place.

Most years in excess of 2000 head of dairy heifers of all breeds are imported from The Netherlands, Denmark, France and Germany, but with restrictions in travel since lockdown at the end of March, few if any have been shipped across.

Add to that the disruption in milk prices at the end of March, early April following the closure of the food service sector; the dry spring and increase in cull cow values in recent weeks, and dairy farmers have sold a lot of milking females, with the result being fewer fresh heifers are available to come to the market.

“There are just not the dairy heifers there,” said Glyn Lucas, dairy auctioneer at Harrison and Hetherington’s Borderway Mart, Carlisle.

“Since lockdown, the production and herd dispersals of dairy cattle have been postponed which has reduced the availability on the home market.

“Travel has also been curtailed, with quarantine procedures putting a lot of people off buying heifers on the continent, so we’ve not seen the same number of heifers imported from Europe.

“There has also been a big percentage of dairy females culled when milk prices fell at the start of lockdown. A lot of producers got rid of animals they would normally have kept especially when the cull trade improved. It costs dairy farmers a lot less to replace milking females now compared to what it used to.”

Such is the shortage of replacement females that fresh Holstein heifer values increased £150-£200 per head on the previous month depending on quality, at Harrison and Hetherington’s May dairy sale, last week.

“Black and white heifers averaged £1802, which is the highest they’ve been all year and I can’t see values slipping when most of the milk processors are now short of milk and the catering sector has a long way to go before it opens up completely.”

The mart’s online bidding facility has also helped bump up the trade, with no fewer than 68 registered bidders for the firm’s first dairy sale post lockdown.

The last sale of 128 head saw 80 bid on line with 39 purchasing animals. Top price was £2300.

Meanwhile, after April’s disruption to the milk industry caused by the loss of foodservice trade, the markets saw a strong recovery in May, mostly as a result of elevated demand in Europe as lockdowns eased and retail outlets looked to re-stock.

Reduced milk production, due to farmers’ actions and drier than normal weather, combined with the relatively high volumes of cheese and butter entering private storage aid (PSA), added urgency to the markets, and prices moved up quickly in the latter half of the month, according to AHDB Dairy.

It claimed markets were relatively stable in the first half of May, but quite dynamic in the second.

Butter markets improved through the month as lockdown eased and buyers starting looking to refill supply chains. The reduced availability due to PSA and the declines in milk production also pushed up quotations.

Cream markets were again quite volatile in May, with prices ranging from £900/tonne at the beginning of the month to more than £1350/t in the past week. Strong demand from the continent, the drop in milk production and buoyant butter markets have all added strength to cream markets throughout May.

Skimmed milk powder prices also improved in May, although to a lesser extent than seen in fat markets. Although stocks are likely to be ample following the peak season, and little has gone into PSA, restocking of foodservice pipelines has boosted demand and pulled up prices in the latter part of May.

Mild cheddar markets remain split. Product for retail markets has seen no change in pricing. Some demand is returning for commodity Cheddar, although this remains at low levels.

The gradual reopening of fast food outlets and some extra demand from the institutional catering sector, now that they have worked through excess stocks, has helped to firm up Cheddar prices pulling up the overall average slightly.