Encouraging prospects for beef and sheep markets in second half of the year


The transformation in the weather since mid-May and the consequent quick growth of grass has given Aberdeen and Northern Marts’ sales of breeding stock a massive boost in recent weeks.

The average price of heifers with calves at foot at the latest sale at Thainstone Centre was £150 up on the first seasonal sale at the beginning of May and £350 higher than last year, ANM head of livestock, John Angus reports.

“It is encouraging that we have had more buyers round the ring at the May breeding stock sales and good quality heifers with calves at foot have been making £2,400 to £3,000 a unit,” said Mr Angus.

“We had very little grass growth at the time of the first sale but the situation had completely changed by the time of the next sale three weeks later.”

Mr Angus said the strong trade indicated that confidence was returning to the beef industry and it was good to see herds replacing breeding stock on the back of buoyant prices for store cattle and a measure of stability in the prime cattle market.

Highlights included a record price of 13,000gns for a Simmental bull at the spring bull sale at Thainstone and a heifer and calves selling for up to £5,200.

“The prospects for the beef market for the second half of the year are looking good, but there are real concerns about the rising cost of fodder and straw due to the diversion of distillery co-products into the energy market and the switch to ryegrass on some farms to feed anaerobic digesters,” he said. “We could do with some rain to make sure silage crops bulk up although some farmers have been cutting grass early for silage out of fear of grass burning up.”

Although some older farmers were tending to cut back breeding cow numbers to make life easier for themselves, there were fewer suckler herd dispersals this spring and very few cows and calves have been coming on the market.

Prime and cull cattle manager, Tim McDonald, expects the steady trade for prime cattle to continue and perhaps strengthen in the next few weeks and reports a particularly strong trade for fleshy cull cows. He is looking to England’s involvement in the World Cup in Russia, coupled with the forecast of good weather, to stimulate barbecue parties south of the border and boost the burger market.

“The cull cow market has shown a big lift since April when farmers were too busy trying to catch up with drilling and the late spring. Demand for good, fleshy cows for the processing market is particularly strong and we have seen prices hit a top of £1,830,” said Mr McDonald.

He also suggests it would be worthwhile for dairy farmers to consider feeding cull dairy cows to put on more flesh rather than marketing them in lean condition at the end of lactation.

“The auction system is leading the way in cull cow prices and dairy farmers have the opportunity of making more money from well-fleshed cull dairy cows to supplement their income from milk,” he said.

The first real marker of the new season will be the show and sale of store cattle at Thainstone Centre on Friday, July 13, and as always some of the top suckled calves and stores from the summer shows will be on offer at the annual Spectacular show and sale on August 24.

Turning to the sheep market, the phenomenal market for old season lamb continued right through the spring and ANM’s weekly sale at Thainstone Centre was still attracting up to 2,000 head right to the end of May.

Prices peaked on April 5 when 4,782 head averaged 284.3p/kg (£126.21/head) with record numbers the following week attracting a massive entry of 7,952 to average 250.5p (£109.72/head).

“The strongly rising market saw the auction ring come into its own as prices increased week after week,” said deputy livestock manager, Colin Slessor.

“The level of prices achieved would never have been attained without the auction system leading the way and resulting in the strongest spring market for sheep we have seen for many years.

“Those hoggs will have been bought in the trough of last autumn’s store trade when prices were down £5/head on the year. Finishers have enjoyed the double benefit of a lower purchase price and a high sale price which will have boosted margins and should augur well for this year’s autumn store lamb sales.”

Trade is being driven by a combination of strong demand, both on the home market and for the export market to Europe, and reduced imports from New Zealand.

This season’s prime lamb market has started off on a high with some lambs hitting £130 - £140/head, and the cull ewe trade also rising sharply, peaking at £200 with pure Texels and Suffolks realising £170 - £190/head.

The prospects remain encouraging and numbers will start building up from July onwards. Again, the auction system will be a vital element in ensuring producers achieve the best price available on the market.

Despite weather problems during lambing, many farms are reporting a good lambing and good lamb numbers. The fantastic weather through May has transformed the performance of lambs as grass growth has taken off and lambs are set to reach the market early and in good order.

The availability of grass has also triggered the market for ewes with lambs at foot with prices up around £10/head. Mule hoggs with single lambs have been making up to £140/head.

“The strong prime market will hopefully impact positively on store markets which were in the doldrums last autumn,” said Mr Slessor.

“The store lamb trade has been buoyant and prices have increased significantly, with finishers achieving good margins on last year’s lambs. Lamb producers in the Highlands and Islands certainly need a lift in price to give them a much needed boost following last year’s disappointing autumn trade.”

With more ewe lambs being culled this year, rather than retained for breeding, trade and demand for gimmers is also likely to be stronger.

Aberdeen and Northern Marts’ auction staff look forward to meeting customers at the forthcoming summer shows. The mart will have stands at the New Deer, Caithness, Turriff, Black Isle and Keith shows where auctioneers and field staff will be present to discuss the prospects for the autumn trade.