3 April 1998

Stores slump by £50 on 97

FEWER store cattle than usual are being sold, as farmers hang on to them in a bid to increase their weight and value.

Plentiful supplies of fodder and the mild weather, which has eased pressure on housing space, have also reduced the urgency to sell stock.

But prices remain well down on last year, with auctioneers putting the drop at more than £50 a head in some cases.

"Prices are lower than for many a spring," says Michael Evans at Hereford.

For those people that are buying, it is abundant fodder supplies – rather than confidence in the finished beef trade – which is the driving factor.

After the experiences of the last couple of years, fewer calves have been kept, reducing store numbers, says Mr Evans.

Auctioneer Geoffrey Dolling says entries are "a little disappointing" for the time of year at Taunton, Somerset, where fewer well-forward beasts are on offer than 12 months ago.

The flush of grass has helped demand, he says, taking prices to £560 for Charolais steers last Saturday. Young bullocks on green CIDs were particularly sought after. The same day saw heifers make to £440.

Most female animals now carry passports, which became compulsory in July 1996, says Mr Dolling. But for those that dont, a price premium is still available for those with cattle birth registration documents.

Without any such paperwork, determining the animals age depends on dentition. "If time is on their side, it is OK," says Mr Dolling. But buying them if they are already showing two teeth can be a "gamble", because you dont know how long you have got to finish them, he says.

At Brecon, Powys, steers and heifers averaged 102p and 89p/kg respectively last Friday when about 800 head went under the hammer. &#42

A mouthful… As more and more store heifers are sold with passports or CBRDs, so ageing them by dentition – as demonstrated here by Northampton auctioneer Keith Rose – becomes less necessary. But demand for them is still lower than in previous years.