By Simon Wragg
DEMAND for store cattle has helped lift values over the past year, with heifers closing the price gap on steers.
Most of the rise in prices paid by finishers was seen in March and April, reports the Meat & Livestock Commission in its latest UK market survey.
Demand has seen Charolais X steers rise from 109.7p/kg liveweight earlier this year to 114.6p/kg.
Overall, figures for Great Britain put medium weight Charolais up 5p/kg on last year, although gains are stronger in Scotland.
At United Auctions Perth venue, David Leggat agrees trade is better, but by how much is hard to quantify.
“So much depends on the status of cattle, but what we are certain of is an increased area of grass to be stocked with dairy and lowland sheepmen going out.”
As entries approach a peak – over 1000 head were put forward for last weeks sale – demand has helped keep bullocks between 110-115p/kg and heifers at 88-96p/kg.
Those carrying a bit more flesh or near a claim were worth more.
Centres including Hexham, Northumberland, are reporting record throughputs, suspecting that some producers are shedding feeding cattle to stay within this years revised stocking rates for beef subsidy.
“No doubt about it,” reports Hexhams Scott Donaldson.
“Those who have what we would call summering heifers and/or autumn-born calves nearing six months old are doing their sums.
“Many are not taking any chances and staying on the low side.”
Trade is still absorbing any surplus. Charolais steers on green and blue tickets are averaging about 440 a head, compared with heifers at about 340 apiece.
But steer and heifer values are closing for some breeds.
“For Limousins, the gap would probably be lower at nearer 80 a head.
At the quality end, a good heifer will make as much as a good bullock,” adds Mr Donaldson.
Not all centres are seeing that. At Ashford, Kent auctioneer Richard Wood maintains steers are retaining their premium.
But there is common agreement that keen interest in forward stores could lead to a shortage of finished stock this summer.
The most recent trade has settled after the poor weather suppressed interest.
Auctioneers Lodge & Thomas of Truro report buyers are shrugging off the recent ills and investing again.
But concern over finishers profits remains strong.
Many traders suggest profits will be tight unless the current clean cattle price improves markedly.
Buyers must watch their margins, is the auctioneers advice.