By Katrina Macarthur

PRIME cattle producers are usually in high spirits at this time of year after a seasonal rise in trade but with a good supply of quality feed available and cattle coming to the market earlier than usual, it's clear to see that there has been no pre-Christmas surge this year.

In the week ending December 5, latest figures show that the overall liveweight steer price in Scotland is back 10.5p on the year, to level at 217.07p, while liveweight heifers have dropped 5.31p to cash in at 225.78p.

It's a similar situation with deadweight prices as AHDB reported that they fell for the tenth consecutive week to continue the downward trend experienced in recent weeks, with the GB all prime average falling 2.25p to finish on 352.86p in the week ending December 8. This is the lowest price of the year so far and it currently stands at more than 5p below the five year average and around 10p below last year's price.

"Due to a lack of grass in the summer time, producers took their cattle off grass at the end of July and then fed them hard inside, so they've ended up on the market now, rather than in the likes of February," said Tim McDonald, who is Aberdeen and Northern Marts' prime and cull cattle manager at Thainstone.

"With the late grass growth in the back-end, cattle which came off in September and October did really well so producers have sold them straight off grass and they're also now on the market much earlier than usual. Cattle are finishing much quicker this year which leaves the market with an overall supply of cattle – it's like a double whammy.

"There is also better quality barley about this year and feeding values are high across the board," he pointed out.

On a more positive note, however, Mr McDonald said that its likely that there will be opportunities for finishers next year due to predicted shortages of prime cattle further into next year.

After a period of sustained decline, the GB deadweight cow price stabilised in the week ending December 8 at 200.1p, which is 7.6p below the five year average over 30p below last year's price. Demand for manufacturing beef is particularly high during this period and saw estimated slaughterings for the week at 12,700 head which is 1000 head or 7.3% lower than the same week last year.

"A lot of suckler producers are tight for feed this year so they're culling hard in the herds," said Mr McDonald. "Instead of keeping cows on and feeding them inside, they're putting more leaner cows off for processing meat."