Bulls see huge demand before coronavirus lockdown

Intense red meat demand through butcher and wholesale routes saw finished bulls reach historic highs last week as Covid-19 panic buying saw Britain stock up on beef.

Clean cattle lifted 3-4p/kg across the marts, while young finished bulls rocketed 10p/kg to average 198p/kg nationally, a level typically only seen at Christmas sales.

Government calls to close restaurants and for the public to stay at home, stoked demand for mince and cheaper cuts from retailers and butchers.

See also: Coronavirus: Assurance bodies suspend on-farm inspections

Reports suggested some deadweight prices also saw modest gain, with finishers feeling that processors were trying to dampen any increases.

But, the ever-stricter government social distancing calls saw cull cattle lose value on Monday as schools, restaurants and fast-food chains – all major cow beef users – were forced to close in a bid to contain the spread of coronavirus. 

This led to falls in prime cattle values on Monday and Tuesday (23-24 March) as supply chains adjusted to new consumer patterns. 


More prime cattle could have been sold at Bakewell on Monday (23 March), but cull trade – while still very strong – took a hit following government- enforced restaurant closures.

Bagshaws prime cattle auctioneer Oliver Hiles said best bullocks sold for £1,400-£1,500 and topped at £1,632 a head, while heifers topped at 250p/kg.

“Butchers are definitely buying more,” Mr Hiles told Farmers Weekly. “Those usually killing one a week are killing two and those killing two are killing three.

One high-end buyer saw kill increase four-fold last week as shoppers stocked fridges and freezers in anticipation of strict social distancing guidelines.

“I think that in normal times, and these are far from normal, we’d have had more cows entered and they’d have been dearer. People understandably were worried when they heard McDonald’s had closed.”

He stressed that 86 cull cows at 117.5p/kg was still a strong trade.


Thirsk reported its dearest bull trade for the time of year last week (19 March). Best bulls sold to 210-238p/kg, with heavy bulls averaging 198.8p/kg, mediums levelling at 194.3p/kg and lighter bulls at 181.8p/kg.

“Apart from the past three Christmas sales they haven’t been at that level,” said auctioneer Tony Thompson. “In August 2018 they were in the mid-180s, but going back to the start of 2016 they were 148-160p/kg.”

Heifers were 8p/kg dearer on the week at an average of 224p/kg and steers lifted 5.2p/kg to 212.7p/kg.

The numbers

The lift seen in young bulls at York on Monday, as 96 levelled at 188.5p/kg and heavies averaged 199p/kg

Lift in prime cattle throughput at Selby last week (18 March) as 181 young bulls averaged 199.4p/kg

Total number of clean cattle and bulls sold at Selby last week (18 March)