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, often to capacity crowds.

First to go was Chelford auction mart in Cheshire, where 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.

Bagshaws’ Alastair Sneddon of Bakewell market in Derbyshire said he had advertised for the better fleshed cattle to ensure the first fixture met buyers’ demands.

Farmers should speak to their auctioneer before they brought cows for sale, he added.

“Buyers and sellers are still feeling their way in the market.

Our best cow sold to 70p/kg, with several in the mid-60s and an overall average of 54p/kg.”

Exeter Market Auctioneers’ Paul Griffin was also pleased with the way sales had begun.

“Our best cow made 100 over the scheme price.

And through the auction ring, the vendor no longer has to contribute to the cost of transporting the animal to slaughter – that’s another 10 for the farmer.”

But careful selection of older cows was paramount, he said.

“We haven’t seen any cull dairy cows yet.

It may be they will still be better off going into the OTM scheme while it remains.”

At Lanark auction mart in Scotland, Lawrie & Symington auctioneer Brian Ross said farmers must bring the cows that buyers want to the infant market.

“Our best beef cows were making 60-65p/kg, and they were what would have been considered good export cows before the ban.”

Meanwhile, Steven Lewis of Welshpool Livestock Sales in Powys said the first catalogue of 47 cows had all sold successfully, with prices ranging from 41p/kg to 71p for a Limousin cow.

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.”

ian.ashbridge@rbi.co.uk