Barren trade gives hope for better beef market

Barren suckler cow prices have stepped up a gear in the new year, giving confidence to beef producers.

Auction marts have reported trade returning to levels 12-20p/kg dearer on the year, after falling flatter around Christmas.

Monday’s sales saw 685 head average 116.21p/kg, up 14p/kg on the year, although prime cattle prices still remain 20p/kg below the five-year average at 331p/kg.

Factory quotes averaged 219.7p/kg to start the month, up from 197.3p/kg in early November, leaving an -O4L at 232.8p/kg.

A base price of 265p/kg was reported in Scotland last week (10 January).

See also: Outlook 2020: Tight margins may force change to beef systems


Carlisle’s barren ring has seen trade lift 15p/kg since October and November.

An entry of 239 dairy cows levelled at 98.1p/kg and beef sired cows averaged 125.5p/kg, slightly back on the week as numbers lifted 22% to 360 head overall.

Harrison and Hetherington’s David Holliday, senior auctioneer at Carlisle, said the buoyant barren trade boded well for beef prices in general.

“Abattoirs appear to be talking about prime cattle coming a bit better – there is talk of the job improving,” Mr Holliday told Farmers Weekly.

He said dairy cow averages were close to the 100p/kg mark, adding that better-than-average dairy cows were making 105-110p/kg.

A price of 128-135p/kg was being achieved by commercial dairy-cross continental suckler cows leaving suckler herds after eight to 10 calves, he said.

He added that those farms which had held on to cows for a month or two, to target the new year market, were being rewarded. He said about 30% of cows were bought as feeding cows.

Caledonian marts

Beef cows are 15-20p/kg dearer than in the autumn at Stirling Caledonian Marts, where auctioneer Oliver Shearman requires cows every Thursday to meet demand from keen buyers.

However, Mr Shearman added that dairy barrens had not lifted by as much.

“We were talking averages of 88-90p/kg a few months ago and they are still floating around 90-95p/kg, with plainer cows at 80p/kg,” he said.

Beef cows were a good trade, with older dairy-cross suckler cows making 125-130p/kg, better-fleshed sucklers at 140-145p/kg and big pure continentals at 160p/kg and above.

“The lift is giving hope to farms selling suckled calves and store cattle,” Mr Shearman said. “We just need prime beef to take a jump now.”

He said suckler cow supply had increased as farms had recently weaned calves and pregnancy-checked cows.