Prime cattle prices continued to climb in the UK as supplies tightened in April. But the volume of beef produced was being boosted by increases in carcase weights.
In Scotland, producers have seen prices climb by 5 per cent since the start of April, but they were still 5 per cent lower than last year, according to analysis from Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).
Abattoirs have handled very similar numbers of cattle to last year over the first quarter with lower steer numbers offset by the significant increase in heifers.
During April, supplies tightened up but the volume of beef available was being helped by increases in carcase weight of 3-4kg per animal.
Stuart Ashworth, QMS director of economics services, said: “With the average Scottish carcase weight for steers creeping above 380kg, the implication is that higher numbers of steers will be falling outside the ideal retail weight limit.
“The average carcase weight of Scottish heifers does, though, remain well below the benchmark 380kg.”
AHDB analyst Jennie Tanner said prime carcase weights had continued to rise in April, up 1 per cent on average to 355.5kg/head.
She said: “The 1.3 per cent increase in steers and young bull weights and 1.5 per cent for heifers is perhaps because farmers were holding on to cattle. The better weather at the beginning of the year has helped animals keep better condition than last year.”
Prime cattle slaughtering for April was down 1 per cent on last year at 162,000-head, with prime slaughter in the first quarter up 0.5 per cent.
This was led by an increase in heifer slaughterings, with young bulls and steer numbers down.
According to Mr Ashworth, this tightening of the pool of prime cattle was likely to continue for the foreseeable future as Scottish calf registrations in 2017 – and currently reaching slaughter age – were 0.25 per cent lower than in 2016.
While Scottish producer prices trail last year’s levels by 5 per cent, Irish producers are currently receiving 8 per cent less than a year ago.
Mr Ashworth highlighted a considerable increase in slaughter volumes contributing to the decline.