Early sales suggest weaned calf values could surge again this autumn, with deadweight prices running 10% up on the year and supporting buyer confidence.
Finishers remain on the hunt for cattle, with numbers tight across the UK, Ireland and mainland Europe. And strong store prices have put an extra £60-£90 on weaned calves.
Europe’s average August beef price was also up 10% on the year. Irish kill is back 6% and factories have paid above quotes in recent weeks.
But while the beef price appears to be firm, the supply chain is under stress. Processors are reporting close to 20-30% fewer staff due to Brexit, Covid, or both.
Talk among the trade is that preparations for Christmas have already begun, with processors starting to ensure they can secure clean cattle in time.
Dingwall and Highland
Spring-born suckled bullock calves levelled at £3/kg at Portree on Skye (20 September), said auctioneer Rod Mackenzie.
An entry of 1,302 calves saw 736 bullocks level at 301.8p/kg and 566 heifers make 290p/kg, 80-90p/kg dearer than in 2019.
Mr Mackenzie said the smallest spring-born weaned calves by Limousin and Charolais bulls were coming to more than £3/kg.
Many 260kg calves made about £800 a head and the smallest 160-170kg calves hit the £4/kg mark.
“They are very good, uniform batches of April/May-born calves sired by Limousin or Charolais bulls bought by the government at Stirling and hired by the crofters,” he said.
At current prices, these calves had the potential to grow into 550-600kg stores worth £1,400 a head. But, Mr Mackenzie stressed, these calves were longer-term buys.
“There’s not a huge margin in the older cattle. They don’t eat for nothing and those bought for 100 days to feed can cost £250-£300 a head in feed costs alone.”
Oliver Shearman, auctioneer at Stirling Caledonian Marts, said he had been valuing cattle in the lead up to an upcoming spring-born calf sale next week (4 October).
He stressed it was very hard to make firm predictions, given market volatility. “As soon as you tell folk you think their calves will be dearer than last year, they are happy,” said Mr Shearman.
He said 12- 13-month-old autumn-born calves had levelled at 260p/kg earlier in the month (6 September). This was 7% (£80 a head) up on the year, while the QMS steer beef price the same week was 417p/kg, up 7.4% on the year.