By Joanna Newman

AS expected, cattle prices firmed up ahead of the Easter weekend as packers re-entered the market to purchase fed animals.

The market has extended its gains since the long weekend, with the Chicago April feeder (store) cattle contract closing at 73.4 cents/lb (£1/kg) Tuesday, 6 April, a 1.4 cent gain on the week.

Several factors have helped drive the market to its highest level in over a month.

Cheaper feed-grain has reduced cattle producers cost of weight gain and resulted in a traditional inverse reaction in livestock prices. Maize dropped 7% this week, while wheat slipped 5%.

Slaughter houses have proved willing to pay up for fed cattle, amidst signs of tight availability for prompt delivery.

While recent USDA reports point to ample long-term supply in the nations feedlots, there appears to be a temporary shortage of market-ready fat cattle.

Packers have been obliged to raise their bids from 63.5 cents/lb (£0.87/kg) a week ago to 65-66 cents (£0.40 -£0.41) now.

So far, the war in the Balkans has had little adverse impact on US cattle values.

However, one factor underpinning the US market is hope of significant aid shipments of beef to Russia, which would help tighten up the domestic market.

Any political deterioration in Russian relations will be monitored nervously by US cattle producers.