Deadweight cattle prices have slipped slightly on the week, but with numbers tight in all age groups, values are unlikely to fall significantly.

January can be the month when ex-farm beef values tumble, but to date, prices have remained similar to those on the run-up to Christmas, with this past week’s dip being the first decline.

Latest figures from AHDB show Scottish clean cattle values down, with the All Steer average cashing in at 499.4p, which is a fall of 1.3p on the previous seven days. Meanwhile, the All Heifer average was 499.7p, which represents a 0.4p drop.

These prices compare to the GB All Steer and Heifer averages of 493.8p (+0.2p) and 490.3p (-0.6p).

Prices are however significantly higher than this time last year, with the deadweight trade up roughly 40p per kg, while prices through the live ring are seeing a 25p per kg rise.

Store cattle producers are also enjoying better prices with trade with values up 35p per kg on the year through Aberdeen and Northern Marts’ Thainstone Agricultural Centre.

“The fat trade has remained firm since Christmas but then cattle numbers are tight,” John Angus, head of livestock at the ANM Group, told The Scottish Farmer.

“We sold a record number of beef cows in 2022 – 12,000 head, which means there were roughly 12,000 fewer calves born in 2023 and there are 12,000 less to sell in 2024.

“Last year, we would have sold 10,000 and we’re still selling 200 head of cows per week. If you don’t have the cows, you don’t have the calves to sell,” he warned.

With reduced supplies, the market is seeing increased demand for both store and finished cattle, with the former up 25p per kg on the year.

“After Friday’s store sale last week, all the steers, heifers, and young bulls sold through Thainstone since the start of January had averaged 306p per kg or £1486 per head, which is up from 280p at the same time in 2023.”

Mr. Angus added bullocks weighted in at 510kg at the last sale and sold for an average of 310p per kg with heifers levelling at 307.6p at 465kg.

“There is plenty demand for store cattle but supplies are tightening, so it’s difficult to see how such prices can fall when the finishers have to keep their numbers up,” said Mr Angus who pointed out that Thainstone mostly sells cattle to local finishers.

However, he added that their prime sales are attracting an increasing number of buyers from south of the Border due to the shortage of finished cattle.

Scott Ferrie, market manager and senior auctioneer at Darlington Farmers Auction Mart, also said supplies are tight, with the firm selling increasing numbers of cows on a weekly basis.

Since the first sale in January, the mart has sold in excess of 500 cows, which coupled with the trend to finish cattle quicker and at a younger age, means that there are and will be fewer cattle in the system now and going forward.

“We’ve had an unbelievable January with increased numbers of stock to sell which pulls in more buyers. Fat cattle and sheep are worth more here because we get a tremendous ring side of buyers and 90% of them have their own abattoir.”

It’s for that reason he believes, clean cattle command a premium of 30p per kg at Darlington, with young bulls in particular highly sought after due to the large number of wholesalers in the area.

At the firm’s last sale, steers averaged 321p and heifers cashed in at 330p which Mr Ferrie said is 20p per kg up on the year which is set to remain due to the shortage of numbers in the supply chain.