Slight upturn in cattle prices

10 January 1997

Slight upturn in cattle prices

CATTLE prices have opened the new year buoyantly, with Monday markets showing a slight upturn.

Steers and heifers averaged 109.6p/kg, with young bulls just over 111p/kg.

With the next intervention tender not due to be adjudicated until next week (Jan 17), the firm demand partly reflects abattoirs and buyers increased activity after the Christmas slow-down.

Retail sources say the cold weather has helped demand.

The bad weather has also kept people away from markets limiting entries, points out auctioneer Jim Watson at Banbury, Oxon. There is also an underlying shortage, he reckons, partly due to the calf slaughter scheme.

Quality of offerings remains variable. "Theres plenty at 115p/kg – but theres a lot just over 90p/kg, too," he says.

For many farmers its a case of "beating the clock", as theyrush to market animals beforethey hit the 30-month point.

"Some really need another six or eight weeks finishing," suggests Mr Watson.

Auctioneer John Hughes at Lancaster says that whilecompound-fed, well-finished Continentals are in strong demand, there is less interest in the silage-finished animals, which may not have the shape and will not kill out as well.

Maurice Wall, who sells at Highbridge, Somerset, has also seen a lot of plain steers sold just days before they reach 30 months of age.

Like many, he maintains that finishers should now look to heifers, which represent good value for money.

The old adage was that the cost of the calf was 25% of the animals finished value, says Mr Wall. Not so long ago you could expect to pay £120 for a heifer calf and its end-value might be £500.

Now the same finished price is available – but you can probably pick up the calf for between £50 and £80, reckons Mr Wall.

Young bulls, meanwhile, are now worth more than steers, marking a reversal of the situation a few months ago.

MLC economist Duncan Sinclair says this reflects the tightening of bull supplies.

In mid-December, about 7000 were being killed UK-wide. Last summer, the figure had been nearer 13,000, as stock held back in the face of the spring price collapse hit the market.

And supplies may shorten further, with weakening young bull prices last spring prompting producers to castrate stock, rather than keep it entire.

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