BEEF VALUES have struggled back this week, as better animals from marts’ Christmas primestock sales begin to bolster the trade. But auctioneers say prime cattle supplies are still ample.

Traders say many farmers are now aware that rushing under-finished beasts out to claim the final £54-a-head slaughter premium could quickly depress the trade, and are keeping cattle back to market in the New Year.

But many animals coming to marts are still not at their peak and auctioneers are having to work hard to find buyers.

Peter Kingwill, auctioneer at Frome market in Somerset, said: “This has been the message for the last few months – don”t just sell them for the slaughter premium.

“It’s a two-tier trade. Values for good, well-fleshed cattle have held very well, but, for example, an O+2 bullock that could have made R4L grade has been badly sold. That’s not what buyers want at this time of year.”

Liveweight heifers and steers rose by 5p/kg on the week, with young bulls not far behind at 91.3p/kg. But at the same time, the deadweight steer price slipped fractionally to 182.6p/kg, adding weight to the view that show cattle had driven the recovery in prices.

Several auctioneers said the trade was likely to remain steady throughout January, and finishers should market cattle carefully.

Richard Turner, auctioneer at Gisburn market in Lancs, said: “There was a blip of over-supply about four weeks ago – things got very depressed very quickly. But the trade has come back recently and Christmas primestock sales have helped to bump averages up a bit.

“One or two wholesalers have marginally dropped their deadweight prices, but it’s had no great impact on the liveweight trade.

“But there is pressure from people trying to gain the last slaughter premiums. Most people learnt their lesson earlier in the year and refused to take such a low price.”

Most abattoirs were now well supplied throughout January, said Mr Turner, but it was possible demand would increase in February and March, helping to lift prices. “If it’s lean enough and will feed through to February or March, keep it.”

Ludlow market’s John Uffold said if the primestock sale results were ignored, the reality of the trade was very similar to recent weeks. “There are still plenty of animals about.

“It just hasn’t quite happened yet for this Christmas. We”ll have to see what the next 10 days bring.” Several vendors had commented how quiet the trade from butchers had been this year, reflecting the plentiful cattle numbers, he added.