Finished beef cattle prices traditionally head north at this time of the year as abattoirs look to stockpile supplies on the run up to Christmas, but an increase in numbers is witnessing the opposite.

Latest figures show overall steer and heifer averages in Scotland again slipped on the week, albeit marginally, with the former dipping 0.7p to 378.l7p per deadweight kg and the latter down 1.6p to average 378.2p.

This compares to values south of the Border which saw steers level at 356.9p and heifers at 358.0p, on the back of increased supplies. The overall GB steer kill balanced out at 362.4p, down 0.2p on the week for an extra 3.5% head while heifers cashed in at 363.2p, down almost a penny for an extra 1.3% head of cattle.

Young bull and cull cow prices were also down according to the AHDB report for the week ending November 10, which pointed to an average of 348.5p for bulls in Scotland, a figure which is down 6.0p following an 18% increase in numbers on the week, while cows fell 3.4p to 236.0p.

However, Stuart Ashworth, director of economic services at Quality Meat Scotland, remains confident values will still improve.

"Historically, we have always seen a rise in the last two weeks and into the first week of December, so I am still expecting to see some sort of improvement in values," he told The Scottish Farmer

“Although we have seen cattle prices dipping 6-7 p/kg dwt over the last month, they also dipped sharply through October last year so despite recent falls, current prices have once again moved ahead of year earlier levels to start November 2p/kg dwt higher than last year.”

He added that the number of cattle reaching abattoirs usually climbs slowly at this time of year with the weekly kill reaching a seasonal peak in November. Figures show that 2018 is following this trend and growth in supplies will have contributed to this seasonal decline in price.

“The weekly kill of prime cattle through August and September 2018 was lower than last year and despite some increase in the kill through October, supply levels are similar to last year. However, the availability of primestock in the run up to Christmas may prove to be better than last year as some of these slower finishing cattle come onto the market.”

Christmas buying will be under way shortly and premium beef, often with a 21 or 28-day maturation period, will need to be purchased over the next couple of weeks to meet consumer demand.

Mr Ashworth added that data on retail sales from Kantar Worldpanel typically show that beef sales over the Christmas and New Year period can be 2-3% higher than in the month previous while demand for roasting joints can double.”

As a consequence, it is not unusual to see prime cattle prices begin to firm in mid-November before dipping away again from mid-December. A typical rise over this period during the past five years is around 2-3p/kg dwt. Last year the price climb was striking, lifting 7p/kg dwt over November as cattle numbers tightened.