Prime cattle supplies and values remain finely balanced with little if any movement on prices and on-going reports of backlogs at certain Scottish abattoirs.

Latest figures from AHDB show steers in GB averaged 349.7p per deadweight kg, down 0.3p per kg, with heifers cashing in at 351.7p, up a penny on the week.

It has been a similar picture in Scotland, with figures for the week ending February 16, showing the total number of steers slaughtered averaging 358.4p, down 2.1p, while heifers improved by half at penny at 361.5p.

What is perhaps becoming more of an issue is the fact that the Scottish premium appears to be fast diminishing with R4L steers north of the Border only worth an extra 2.3p per kg compared to those in England and Wales at 362.2p and 359.9p, respectively.

The premium is slightly more for heifers with those hitting the 'spec in Scotland attracting an extra 7.3p at 365.5p compared to those south of the Border at 358.3p.

Conversely, cull cow values improved on the week with the GB average working out at 219.1p per kg, and 234.3p in Scotland, rising 2.6p and 3.1p per kg respectively.

Unfortunately, with no sign of a trade deal with the EU to date and supplies apparently aplenty, values are unlikely to improve in the near future.

However, with GB registrations down some 2% last year compared to 2017, prices should improve in 2020 and 21.

According to the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) birth notifications were down by around 50,000 head last year at 2.65m calves. The largest declines came from dairy males, down 22,500 head (-7%) although lower registrations were recorded across both dairy and beef calves of both sexes, following the poor weather at the beginning of last year which led to increased mortality.

What has had more impact on registrations however, is the increase in cow slaughterings over the past 18 months and particularly from August onwards, as marginal cows that would have been calving at this time having been culled as a result of fodder shortages.

Increased mortality of both stock under 12months and over 30months is also likely to affect beef supplies this year as deaths of cattle under 12 months were 4% higher in 2018 than in 2017, while those over 30 months increased by 6% on year.

Looking at short-term beef supplies (cattle aged between 12 and 30months of age), AHDB figures show supplies are slightly up year on year although the dairy female and male numbers in the same age bracket, are considerably reduced year on year.

Lower registrations throughout 2018 have also led to a reduced population of both dairy and beef cattle under 12months of age, hence beef supplies are likely to become tighter towards the end of 2019 and into 2020, with fewer cattle expected to be on the ground.

It is a trend that could continue in the short term too as beef and dairy female numbers over 30months of age are both down by 22,500 head and 45,000 head respectively, with the entire cattle population down around 140,000 head compared to January 2018.