PRIME SHEEP values rose in many outlets this week, promising a welcome seasonal increase, but finished cattle prices remained under pressure as ample supplies of market-ready beef kept the market subdued.

While the prime lamb SQQ price in England and Wales rose to 111p/kg liveweight on Monday, Nov 29, after weeks of trading at about 104p/kg, beef values remained up to 5p below the same period last year.

Brian Pile, auctioneer at Thrapston, Northants, said: “The lamb trade has had a little bit more bite to it. Thrapston averaged 109p/kg last week, the best average for weeks. “Cattle prices were exceptional in the summer, but values have since fallen away, and we haven’t seen the demand for Christmas beef to liven the trade up a bit.”

Talk of Irish and Argentinean imports had done nothing to help the beef trade, he added.

Peter Crichton, of liveweight marketing outlet Hill Farm Sheep at Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, said: “People who bought store lambs will need to see an increase when they sell them as hoggets from January onwards. Stores were so expensive, at around 40 a head this year, that producers will need to see an SQQ of about 110p/kg to get into profit.”

And there was some concern in the sheep sector that if beef prices failed to firm up, it could begin to compete with lamb, he added.

Deadweight cattle prices slipped again last week by almost a penny and although liveweight prices fell by a narrower margin, they were still around 3p/kg down on equivalent 2003 values.

Simon Draper, auctioneer at Thame Market in Oxon, said many producers had fed cattle in order to claim the last Slaughter Premium payments, and while the cattle were largely well-finished, their numbers were dampening trade.

“One would hope to see some seasonal increase in price, but a lot of Christmas meat is being boxed now. But when we start to see the show cattle being sold, it should give the figures some lift.”

Some traders suggested beef values would need to recover by around 12p/kg to reclaim the slaughter premium value, or producers faced beef costs eating into their single farm payments.

But the Meat and Livestock Commission’s Jane Connor said retail lamb sales were fairly static.