31 May 2002

Prime sales set to dodge 20-day rule

By James Garner

TWO auction markets are planning to hold slaughter-only cattle primestock sales, following new legislation allowing live auctions of animals direct to slaughter irrespective of the 20-day rule.

York Market, operated by Stephenson &Son, held its first weekly slaughter-only sale last Monday (May 20). Colchester Market, currently East Anglias only operating auction, is set to hold its first dedicated slaughter market on June 11.

The rules governing slaughter-only marts were aimed at helping those sites struggling to get prime cattle through the gates because of the 20-day rule, which has tied stock up on farms. Since May 15, farms serving a 20-day movement ban have been able to send stock to a slaughter-only market, but not take them home if the price wasnt good enough.

Richard Tasker, auctioneer at York, said that about 280 head of cattle passed through the ring last week in front of plenty of buyers from a wide range of processors. He added that there was no sign of any buying cartels operating.

"We have sold pigs like this for years and never had anyone wanting to take animals home. There were no problems."

Graham Ellis, who runs Colchester Market, is pleased with numbers of finished cattle so far, but fears the source of stock will soon dry up because Colchester is located in a feeding area.

"On consultation with our vendors we have decided to hold a slaughter-only market for cattle and sheep. Many of our finishers need to be confident that they can sell finished cattle and replace them each week with reared calves."

Mr Ellis was confident that vendors would still get a fair sale despite not being allowed to take cattle home if they were unhappy with the value.

"We are lucky that we have some genuine wholesalers in the area that want to use the live ring – none of them supply the multiples and they are all local and independent slaughterers. In all the sales we have made since we reopened there has only been one vendor who has wanted to take any stock home."

Mr Ellis added that in a normal week he would have at least 11 different buyers around the ring and that this ensured prices were competitive.

However, he added that operating a market under the new rules was very tough and some difficult decisions had to be taken.

"We are gambling really. Its turmoil because livestock markets are operating on such small margins. The 20-day rule remains the biggest constraint on trade and is unjustified, but we have to serve our customers and clients in the best way."

Throughout the summer and autumn, Mr Ellis reckoned that this would be best achieved with a slaughter market and a store market operating on separate days.

Overall cattle prices in the live ring picked up marginally last week to 86.4p/kg for medium weight steers with numbers also slightly higher. However, they are still hovering around the mid-3000 mark, is well below pre-foot-and-mouth levels. &#42