22 September 1995

Strong cull cows buck the trend

By Tim Relf

A STRONG demand looks set to keep cull cow prices firm, despite the high numbers which continue to be sold.

Contrary to the seasonal norm, average prices rose to 82.3p/kg in the week ending Sept 13, surprising many auctioneers.

At Uttoxeter, Stephen Egerton partly attributes the buoyancy (over one in six entries topped the £600-mark there last week) to the firmer finished beef trade.

"Fat cattle have risen about 10p/kg in the last month," he says, "and culls have improved about 5p/kg on the back of this."

Auctioneer David Fisher at Beeston Castle points to slightly lower numbers, and sharper demand due to the cooler weather, as shoring up prices.

Numbers have remained high everywhere. Between January and July, national slaughterings stood about 30% above 1994 levels. And provisional data for August shows higher slaughterings continuing.

Not so steep?

It seems unlikely, however, that the traditional autumn swell in numbers will be as steep as usual. As Mr Fisher remarks at Beeston Castle, where over 500 cows have been sold every week recently: "You cant sell the same cull twice."

Autumn marketings may be prompted by the tight forage situation which many farmers face. "This shortage is reflected in the price of standing maize," says Mr Fisher. "I recently sold some for about £1500/ha (£600/acre); last year it was making about £990/ha (£400/acre)."

But auctioneers also point to recent milk production figures, showing August output to be below quota, as discouraging some culling.

Agreeing that the seasonal swell in numbers will be smaller than in the past, Uttoxeters Mr Egerton is confident that prices will remain firm.

Similarly, the MLC says that, despite lower exports of cow beef (down so far this year about a third on 1994), the reduced availability of manufacturing beef from stocks will help support the trade.

Prices will be especially good at the heavy end of the market, predicts Mr Egerton. "Farmers should be feeding cows even after their milking life is over. At current prices, they should be trying to put weight on them rather than selling them at the earliest opportunity.

"They should be seen as a meat product, rather than a by-product of milk production."