Surging cull cow prices are rewarding patient finishers who held on to cows in the spring as the coronavirus lockdown shook supply chains.
Cull cow base prices are up to about 300p/kg this week and the national mart average has lifted 15-20p/kg to 125p/kg – putting more than £100 on a cow’s value over the past few weeks.
Mart entries plummeted in April to just 841 head (-56% on the year) in the second week of lockdown.
Numbers have since pulled ahead of last year, suggesting the strongest prices in almost two years have brought cows on to the market in force.
This has been helped by the re-opening of some fast food outlets.
AHDB red meat analyst Duncan Wyatt also underlined low Irish kill figures as a key supportive factor for UK beef prices.
“I think the volatility in cow prices is coming from the market constantly readjusting to demand under lockdown,” said Mr Wyatt.
“Demand for mince has been high all along. Initially this was at the expense of steaks, but now these have been promoted and are selling well, processors are finding they need cattle of all types.”
Gisburn has seen feeding cows bring good margins, although finishers have been patient following two or three weeks of disruption disruption.
“People panicked for a little bit and held on to cows, although the trade didn’t drop too much really, only a couple of pence,” auctioneer Jack Pickup told Farmers Weekly.
Gisburn reported an entry of close to 60 cull and 20 feeding cows last week (4 June). Best suckler cows made 150-160p/kg, topping at 169p/kg for a non-Farm Assured Limousin cow.
Well-fleshed Farm Assured dairy cows are making 120-130p/kg and generally trade is seeing all dairy entries make 95p/kg or more.
Mr Pickup said good suckler cows were 10p/kg dearer than five to six weeks ago and the lean out-of-parlour cows were hitting about 85p/kg.
He said a Dovecote Park buyer supplying Burger King had helped drive trade and a couple more farmers were sourcing feeding cows.
Cull cow prices have strengthened in late May and early June at Selby, where Richard Haigh and the team generally get entries of well-finished beef cows.
An entry of 50 head included good beef cows at 140-150p/kg last week (3 June) and the best younger continentals at 170-180p/kg.
“Cows are scarce this time of year,” Mr Haigh said. “There’s also strong demand for meat. This is making these cows well worth feeding at the moment. You get your value back for what you put into them.”