22 March 1996

Over-fattening at an end?

FINISHED cattle prices have stopped falling, suggesting an end to the marketing of over-fat cattle widely seen earlier this month.

According to auctioneers, the beef special premium scheme retention rules, combined with favourable weather for cattle, led to some stock becoming over-finished.

Latest figures, however, show steers averaging 120.33p/kg on Mar 18, a rise of over 2p on the week.

"Some have certainly come through a bit thick," says auctioneer Paul Carter at Darlington, Co Durham.

Earlier in the month, there were some cattle which, had they not been on retention, would have been sold two or three weeks earlier, agrees auctioneer Jim Watson at Banbury, Oxon.

"Partly responsible for the forward condition of many has been the good quality silage which many have been eating."

But no flood came off retention; and the outlook is for continuing tight supplies. Some people have already sold cattle to make space for sheep in buildings, suggests Mr Watson.

National figures, meanwhile, put marketings well below year-earlier levels. Slaughterings during the last quarter of 1995 were down 9% on the year before at 592,000.

And figures showing numbers to be down so far in 1996, too, have led the MLC to suggest the backlog of cattle is still in the pipeline.

An upturn in slaughterings between April and June could, therefore, weaken prices during this period.

At Guildford, Surrey, auctioneer Ashley Ward agrees that the beef special premium scheme is pushing producers towards heavier finishing weights.

"The last couple of weeks have been marvellous weather for finishing cattle, too. And although some farmers have been short of fodder, what they have got is often of excellent quality."

Of more concern to Mr Ward than over-fat entries, has been the general lacklustre beef trade. "The deadweight trade has been diabolical."

Figures from Audits of Great Britain, meanwhile, continue to show reduced levels of household purchases of beef. In the four weeks to Feb 11, the figure was down 11% on 1995. &#42