By Simon Wragg

CONFIDENCE in finished cattle prices towards the end of 1999 has spilled over into the January store sales, with many centres reporting a rise on last years opening values.

At Thainstone, Aberdeen & Northern Marts saw spirited bidding in all classes with the celebration show and sale marking the centres 10th anniversary.

The days champion, a 530kg Limousin x Charolais, took bids to 1400.

Aside from the eagerness to secure animals in this special showcase, auctioneer Allan Taylor reports that values are up markedly on 1999.

“Steers would be up 9.2p/kg and heifers 12.4p/kg on the year; buyers bought well last year and are back for more,” he says.

“A lot of stockmen had good numbers of prime cattle away before the year end and have yards to restock.

“There is also a reduced number of stores in the market at the moment, possibly as a result of the breeding herd dispersals seen last year, which helps the trade.

“Either way, there are plenty of buyers.”

The days entry of 1000 head levelled steers at 112.5p/kg and heifers at 95.2p/kg.

Many will be finished on intensive cereal-based rations later this spring or early summer.

“If cattle numbers are down as far as some believe, finished prices should hold well and, hopefully, these men will make money again,” he adds.

Young bulls are also making a swift trade, although prices – as ever – are strongly dependent on whether the first beef subsidy claim has been made.

Last Fridays entry at Thainstone averaged 111p/kg (up 5.5p/kg on the year) in keeping with other sectors.

In the eastern arable heartland, auctioneer Graham Ellis at Colchester believes good stores are going to be a rarer commodity this year.

“We are not blessed with being a store stock area for a start.

“Values at our first sale would put 25 a head on heifers and up to 50 a head on steers against last year.”

That is in stark contrast to two years ago, when values were down. But cheaper feed costs could take some of the sting out of higher feeding cattle values.

The plentiful supply of potatoes and cheaper cereals will help maintain finishers margins, says Mr Ellis.

“There are certainly more buyers than sellers at the moment and consequently many stores are in the 100-120p/kg bracket.

“But beef looks like being the one bright spot in an otherwise gloomy market. In recent months it has been the only consistently fair trade,” he adds.

If demand firms ahead of turnout – when more stores are likely to hit markets – values should deter producers entering under-finished stores into fat rings in the hope of bagging the new slaughter premium worth an estimated 17 a head, remarks Richard Turner of Lancashire-based Gisburn market.

“You never know, some may be tempted to do it.”

A small entry at the seasons first sale saw total clearance at Gisburn with values in line with the pre-year end beef trade.

“These are definitely better than a year ago and buyers are confident that they will make a return when these animals are sold later this year.”