CAP REFORM has quickly freed-up traditional trading in many livestock marts, with cattle feeders increasingly selecting younger cattle from the prime ring to finish.

With no slaughter premium or retention periods influencing when farmers market cattle, many are carefully selecting suitable beasts from weekly prime markets and feeding them for a profit.

Bernie Hutchinson, auctioneer at Market Drayton in Shropshire, said the move had helped to boost competition in the market. “There are now more buyers competing for the poorer cattle going through the fat ring. This will help to lift the base price – so there could be a knock-on effect in the deadweight sector.

“We”re definitely seeing more farmers buying the lighter 500-560kg steers, and feeding them to sell at 650-700kg.”

Mr Hutchinson reckoned farmers could bolster returns further by making sure stock were farm assured. “Some will buy unregistered cattle at 26 months and keep them for three months, gaining farm assurance status and receiving a premium.”

On mediocre steers, this plan could return a premium of about 5p/kg liveweight, or as much as 10p/kg if major processors were short of beef, he said.

Auctioneer Brian Pile, of Thrapston Market in Northants, said a few farmers had bought cattle this way before CAP reform, but the single farm payment era made it much easier.

“Store cattle have been very expensive since the beginning of the year, and lifting restrictions has meant there is another place to go and buy cattle to feed. It”s definitely put more competition in the market – as a vendor, you”re not relying solely on the men who want to slaughter.”

The new, freer climate augured well for the live markets and also for the meat trade, with better-finished cattle going for slaughter, he said.

“The only time restriction left on these animals is the over-30-months rule. There”s no two-month retention period and no extra slaughter premium to pay the vendor.”

“At Melton Mowbray Market in Leics, auctioneer Tim Webster said farmers had “been waiting to nip in” from the first week of 2005. “With plenty of cheap feed about, it”s mainly younger, Continental heifers attracting the attention, but buyers are after anything with remaining time on. It”s put a bottom in the market, keeping the buyers on their toes.

” Farm assurance was an important factor, said Mr Webster, and could make 5-6p/kg difference.”