Auction rings were packed last week as the first over-30-month cattle to be sold since the 1996 BSE crisis went under the hammer.

Many marts reported a strong start to the resurrected market, but traders urged farmers to be cautious, as licensed abattoirs were still few and buyers only had eyes for the best animals.

As Farmers Weekly went to press, about 22 auction marts had held their first sales, with Chelford auction mart in Cheshire first out of the blocks.

Marshall’s auctioneer Roy Waller sold 19 cows on 3 November. He said: “The crowd at the ringside was four deep and nobody knew what was going to happen.

“Then the first cow made 54p/kg and after that it was like shelling peas.”

Top price was 58p/kg for a 675kg Shorthorn cow, netting £391.50, more than £97 over the OTM scheme payment rate of 43.6p/kg.

National Beef Association chief executive Robert Forster said just 13 plants had been approved to handle over 30-month cattle, but hoped this would rise to 16 by the weekend.

“As expected, buyers are seeking the better-meated cows only. A cow of O+ standard and over 300kg is what is wanted,” he said.

“The OTM scheme is expected to close around the third week in January, so if farmers have a really light dairy cow, born after August 1996, they should think about getting her gone as soon as possible.”