(Hexham and Northern Mart)
MARKETINGS of finished cattle will be more orderly this spring than in the past.
No big glut is hitting the market this month after steers came off the two-month subsidy retention period. It is, says Mr Donaldson, a legacy of animals slow progress last year in the face of inclement weather. "They were poorer all summer, with a lack of sunshine and a lack of grass. They went into sheds less fit than usual in the autumn.
"Rather than seeing thousands and thousands of steers sold in early March, it looks likely to be a more staggered marketing pattern."
Animals that would have been slaughtered at, say, 23 months old may now go back to grass this summer and arrive in the early autumn at 27 or 28 months old.
"This pattern will suit the finished trade," says Mr Donaldson. "Stability of supply is what people want. Breeders and feeders alike seem able work at the current levels."
Store values, meanwhile, have stayed level, mirroring this situation. Yearling steers on blue CIDs are changing hands for between £380 and £480, with similar-age heifers at £300 to £400.
And annual consignments are making only slightly less – in some cases just £10/head – than 12 months ago. "Considering the weights, they may even be dearer."
But the bad weather last year has meant older sorts are now passing through the store ring. "There are more just ready for the second premium claim to be taken – or those on red CIDs with both already claimed."
Demand for stores looks like staying firm, partly as people re-invest money made on cheaply-bought stores last autumn. "Some people bought heifers for £170 in October, sold them in February and doubled their money."
Buyers, though, are keen to get ever-more information. "They want to know what type of cow the animal is out of to assess what the growth rate is likely to be – because a small difference can make all the difference between profit and loss."
More demand is also evident for farm-assured store cattle. "Its not that they make a lot more," says Mr Donaldson. "Its that they will have more customers keen to buy them if theyre assured."
The net effect is a gap of £130-plus between the best and worst stores. More of the better-quality sorts are now traded earlier in the year than was traditionally the case. "The top draws now tend to change hands in February and March, with vendors keen to clear out their sheds for cows or ewes."
And this drive for quality has been mirrored among the cows and calves, with best-quality heifers with spring-born bull calves at foot making £800 and those with heifer calves worth £650.