Trade remains buoyant

7th October 2011

The back-end sales are now well under way, with many of the largest breeding sheep sales completed; all classes would seem to have experienced a fast and much deserved trade. Having travelled extensively throughout England over the last six weeks I have been surprised by the shortage of grass in many counties of the country, with some areas resembling arid fields normally only found in southern European countries. In the north however we have had a plentiful supply of rain, to the extent that many farmers, particularly in south west Scotland, are left struggling to finish their harvest.

Prime cattle sales continue to harden with many markets reporting overall averages heading toward 200p/kilo, which equates to nearly 360p/kilo deadweight equivalent. The market prices reported are average prices and not a bid price before any grading and classifying reductions start to erode it. I can never understand why more "deadweight" orientated cattle feeders don't look more closely at what their cattle may be worth through the live ring, albeit that we have seen an increase in the percentage of slaughter cattle (heifers, steers and young bulls) being sold live, rather than direct to the abattoir. Prime cattle sale averages are typically some 35/40p/kilo better than at the same time last year.

Cull cows values remain strong, with demand continuing to outstrip supply. Some of the best beef bred young cows are regularly making a better price per kilo, through the live auction ring, than many prime cattle. Cull dairy cow prices have, for many months, exceeded most vendors' expectations and we have seen a noticeable swing from deadweight selling back to the live ring, where open and transparent competition has assured those vendors of a full and fair market value. With cull cow prices high throughout Europe we can be assured that the UK trade is no more than in line with those across the water from us. Cull cow prices are typically 30/35p/kilo better than last year, which for many equates to nearly £200 per head.

Back-end store cattle sales have started well, with prices of between £100 and £150 per head more than at the same time last year being achieved. We have even seen some markets that predominantly sell suckler bred store cattle reporting overall average sale prices reaching close to the magical £1,000 per head mark.

Early breeding sheep sales reflected the national livestock trends with a healthy increase in prices, but the later sales of ewe lambs have seen the edge slightly off the trade, due to the lack of keep available in many areas of the country, and some concerns that the early sales started too high.

Prime lambs, although recently seeing a slightly more resistant trade, have achieved prices well up on the year, all season. Markets last week saw average prices in the region of 5% dearer than the same period last year, even with noticeably more numbers being presented for sale through the live ring. The more hesitant trade has not been helped by the increase in the value of sterling against the Euro, and concerns over markets in some Euro Zone countries.

Cull ewes continue to please most vendors, with markets seeing their values some 15/20% dearer than at the same time last year. Markets are reporting an increased number of cull ewes being presented for sale, which suggests that most farmers are being selective as to which ewes are retained for breeding this coming season.

Generally trade remains very pleasing with consistently better prices, year on year, which all help to take our industry back towards a more realistic level, which in turn will give the confidence for re-investment in our fragile businesses.