Prices have held up ’remarkably well’ at auction marts through the autumn
A collapse in prices for store cattle and breeding stock might have been expected this autumn due to the shortage of forage and straw but in fact prices have held up remarkably well, according to Aberdeen and Northern Marts head of livestock John Angus.
Store cattle and breeding calf prices had generally sold at similar values on the year.
The main sale of autumn-born calves at Thainstone Centre saw prices slip by 4.6 ppk for steers and 2.3 ppk for heifers but returning confidence and the availability of more winter feed than expected resulted in rise of 6.5 ppk for steers and 5.2 ppk for heifers at the later sale of spring-born calves.
“Demand for cattle has been better than expected,” said Mr Angus.
“The sharp increase in feed costs is a concern but the good run of weather in the late autumn has assisted farmers with the later housing of livestock.
"The price of straw has eased since harvest time and is expected to hold at these current levels through the winter.”
Fears of a further fall in the beef breeding herd are not being realised with indications that most farmers are replacing cull cows or expanding to spread overhead costs.
The main sale of spring calving heifers at Thainstone saw prices rise by £69 per head to average £1,716 per head.
A pre-Christmas surge in prime cattle prices has not materialised with cattle coming to market earlier and a two-three week waiting list at abattoirs.
Prime and cull cattle manager Tim McDonald said he was encouraging finishers to bring cattle to auction when they are ready rather than incurring the cost of feeding for an extra two or three weeks and run the risk of becoming too fat and failing to meet specification.
Prime cattle prices at auction are steady with a particularly strong demand for butchers’ heifers which are attracting a premium price.
Store lamb prices had risen by about £10 per head in recent weeks to £60-£68 per head for top lots.
The availability of late grass and forage had helped but the 20-25 per cent increase in concentrate cost would make feeding over the winter more expensive.
Deputy head of livestock, Colin Slessor, expects numbers to be tight as a result of the late spring storm which hit some hill flocks hard.
This suggests prime lamb prices should firm through to the spring.
Fears of a no-deal Brexit, which could affect the lamb export trade to mainland Europe, had impacted on the autumn trade for breeding stock, with gimmers trading at lesser rates – £10-£15 per head down on the year – although top-end gimmers were meeting a satisfactory trade.
The prime lamb market is showing signs of improvement after slipping back through September and October, with export weight lambs seeing the biggest rise. Demand for cull ewes was improving with heavy ewes making more than £100 per head.