STORE CATTLE trading has begun the single farm payment era in confidant mood in many marts, backed up by stronger beef values and slightly reduced numbers.

Producers who forward-dated male beasts’ retention periods to start from Jan 25 – to extend beef special premium payments deadline – appear to have caused some shortfall.

Traders are not expecting these animals to come forward until late April, leaving younger, mainly female, animals to attract the bids. And auctioneers report trade at its keenest for younger heifers with plenty of potential.

The energetic trade has surprised many, after widespread predictions of uncertainty as farmers grappled with the idea of the decoupled SFP.

Bob Oakes, auctioneer at Market Drayton in Shropshire, said he was amazed. “It’s a very encouraging start, partly on the back of the better beef trade. It could be there is more confidence than we thought there would be – we certainly have a ring full of buyers.”

Of the 124 head sold at Market Drayton last week, Mr Oakes said good Continental-cross heifers were most in demand. “In particular, young weanling heifers that will go out for the summer – some sold to 149p/kg.”

Bagshaws’ auctioneer Norman Tweddle sold 800 stores at Bakewell, Derbys, last week. He said: “We expected store cattle values to come down, with beef special premium and slaughter premium now gone, but heifers have been particularly dear, with some going as herd replacements and some going to do well in the primestock ring.”

Of the mostly Continental entry at Bakewell, Limousin and Belgian Blue cattle were most popular, he said. “Heifers at 8-9 months old achieved 460-470 a head, as many male cattle will be tied up on farms until the end of April, when their retention periods end.”

McCartneys auctioneer John Uffold said that with plenty of fodder available and grain values depressed, some finishers were in a stronger position than expected. “And it is a fact that we end up with a store trade that reflects the uplift in the prime trade,” he said.

Nine-month-old heifers were making between 30 and 60 more than their weight, with really smart Limousins beyond 400 a head. “I expect the male stores that would have normally been sold in January and February to become available later in the spring.”

Auctioneer Simon Draper, of Thame Market in Oxon, said some farmers were reluctant to sell, but with a decent prime trade, buyers wanted cattle.

“I expect we will only see about 60% of last January”s store throughput this year.” Limousin-cross heifers, at 15 months and weighing 300kg were made about 388, while even Simmental-cross bulls were 50-60 a head up on December’s values, he added.