Despite stabilising prime beef prices, breeding and store cattle values remain better than anticipated with quality lots attracting the greatest premium.

While overall steer and heifer values in Scotland, rose marginally for the week ending May 11, at 363.5p (+2.1p) and 364.7p (+0.6p), respectively, prices for the following days were very much on a par according to those in the know.

Yet, breeding cattle values remain buoyant at all centres up and down the country as producers look to replace the increased number of older cows and heifers sold at the end of last year when forage supplies were tight rather than have to buy in expensive feeds.

"Good quality units are selling well, and those with strong calves at foot are particularly sought after," said John Angus, auctioneer and head of livestock at Aberdeen and Northern Marts' Thainstone Centre.

"We're only half way through our breeding cattle sales having already sold 400 lots, and the best of them would be up £50 on the year. People are looking for good quality suckler units, with Simmental cross females most in demand in this area. In saying that it was a Limousin cross British Blue with Limousin cross calf at foot that has produced the lead price to date this year at £4700."

Mr Angus added that the mild winter and spring, coupled with the increase in grass growth in recent weeks as a result had helped bolster confidence in the beef market in stark contrast to last year's dry, hot summer which led to reduced forage supplies, increased feed prices and farmers selling off potential breeding heifers and older cows as a result.

Backing up this statement, Harry Begg, auctioneer at C and D Auction Marts' Dumfries centre, said their most recent, last week met the dearest trade seen at the market with a huge crowd of both local buyers and producers from as far afield as Aberdeenshire, down to Anglesey.

"There was an exceptional demand for bulling heifers and breeding cattle outfits with people looking to buy good big quality heifers. Bulling heifers would have been £100-£120 per head up on the year with breeding cattle outfits rising £150-£200 on the year. Even some of the young lots sold well with Sim Luing heifers about a year old selling to £1200.

"There was not the bottom end of cattle this year, so virtually all types of cattle were easily sold with the exception of the smallest heifers," added Mr Begg, who pointed out that breeding units sold to £2800 for a British Blue heifer with heifer calf from McNeill Estates, Shennanton, while bullers peaked at £1500 for Limousin crosses bred from dairy herd at Drum, Beeswing, farmed by John and Stuart Harvey.

He also attributed the rise in demand to growing confidence in the sector following the mild winter and spring which has led to increased grass growth compared to 2018 at this time. Furthermore, most producers were able to get through winter without having to buy in additional expensive forages, despite the predicted shortage.

And, with the increased grass growth, Mr Begg said store cattle values had taken a bit of a lift over the past six weeks, with many lots almost on a par with prices this time last year.

Looking further ahead, latest figures from the British Cattle Movement Service show GB cattle birth registrations for the first three months of 2019 rose marginally on the year to 676,000head (+0.4%). This is as a result of the horrendous weather last year which saw higher on-farm mortality rates and as a result, lower calf registrations.

Latest figures also point to a change in the type of cattle registered due to trends in the dairy sector. Over the past couple of years, increased use of sexed semen in dairy herds has resulted in higher numbers of female registrations while the number of dairy males have fallen.

Dairy farmers are also increasingly choosing to put their cows to a beef sire. In 2018, nearly half of dairy inseminations were to a beef sire, which has likely driven the increase in the number of beef calves registered in the first quarter of this year. Hence, the increased number of registered beef animals during Q1 of this year may lead to a slight uplift in beef production in the summer of 2020.