Aberdeen & Northern Marts Q4 market report

Trade for store cattle and breeding stock this autumn has held up remarkably well, confounding the prophets of doom anticipating a collapse in prices due to a shortage of fodder and straw following the long, dry summer.

Autumn store cattle and breeding calve prices have generally been running at similar values on the year with plainer, weathered cattle harder to cash. The main sale of autumn-born calves at Thainstone Centre saw prices slip by 4.6 pence per kilo for steers and 2.3 pence per kilo for heifers but returning confidence and the availability of more winter feed than expected – although at a cost – resulted in rise of 6.5 pence per kilo for steers and 5.2 pence per kilo for heifers at the later sale of spring-born calves.

“Demand for cattle has been better than expected and there are still some good cattle around for the discerning buyer,” says Aberdeen and Northern Marts head of livestock, John Angus. “The sharp increase in feed costs is a concern, however, the good run of weather in the late autumn has assisted farmers with the later housing of livestock and the fodder challenges going into the winter. 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 which was totally against expectations.

Finishing cattle have done well this back-end as a result of the good harvest weather and a supply of better-quality barley. But it looks as if the pre-Christmas surge in prime cattle prices is not going to happen with cattle coming to market earlier and a two-three week waiting list at abattoirs to get cattle slaughtered.

Prime and cull cattle manager, Tim McDonald, is 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 spec. Prime cattle prices at auction are steady with a particularly strong demand for butchers’ heifers which are attracting a premium price.

As introduced by the Farm Profit Programme advisers at the open meeting in August, breeders are heeding advice to sell cows proving not in calf as quickly as possible rather than carrying unproductive passengers in the herd. More leaner cull cows are coming on the market which has seen prices slip by 12-14 pence per kilo.

It is debatable at current feed costs whether it is worth feeding cows to a heavier weight before culling and there is a limit to how far older cows can be taken.

The autumn store lamb market started off slowly, but with late autumn grazing more plentiful, prices have risen by around £10 per head in recent weeks to £60-£68 per head for top store lambs. The availability of late grass and forage has helped but the sharp increase in the cost of concentrates – up 20-25% on last year – will make feeding over the winter more expensive.

However, 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 which 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, has 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.

Conversely, trade for rams held up well through the autumn with all breeds meeting good demand.

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 is improving with heavy ewes making over £100 per head.

Meantime, the festive season will soon be upon us – don’t forget the Christmas turkey sale at Thainstone on December 20. Thank you to all our members and customers for your business in 2018 and a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to one and all.

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