Increased demand for beef coupled with a overall shortage of cattle, is resulting in some record breaking prices for short-keep stores, prime and cull cows – and ex-farm prices look set to rise further.

While most of the big abattoirs have stood on the high values paid from the previous week, industry insiders believe prices look set to rise in the coming days, due to increasing demand for the product and reduced numbers available.

"There is plenty demand for beef and positiveness in the sector," said Grant Anderson, commercial sales manager and auctioneer at Harrison and Hetherington, Carlisle.

"I've never seen short-keep cattle as dear, with those nearer the knife £200-£300 per head up on the year and increased numbers of finished cull cows selling for higher prices almost on a weekly basis.

"We're selling 300-400 cows every week which is 80-100 head up on the year with dairy types averaging 165p per kg and beef cows at 190-200p."

However, while short keep store values are at record levels, those with a lot of growing to do, have not increased in value due to soaring feed costs. As a result Mr Anderson said more producers who would normally sell long-keep store cattle in April, have opted to hold them over for the grass before selling them in a couple of months.

More worrying is the fact that with the cull market at a record high, there are not the breeding heifers available to buy.

"We used to have monthly beef breeding cattle sales of about 100 outfits, but at the last sale there were only 25-30. We are doing more farm to farm sales with individuals looking for high health status cattle, but the cattle are just not there to sell," Mr Anderson said adding that breeding cattle values to date have been on a par with last year.

"Most farmers are relatively happy with the trade. A lot of the feeding men had a really good 12 months but much depends on what happens in the next three to six months, when input costs have soared as much."

Group sales director at United Auctions, Stirling, John Roberts, also highlighted the concerns regarding future costs but added that shorter keep cattle are the dearest since 'horsegate' while those younger, lighter cattle were selling at similar values to this time last year.

This in turn is resulting in a shortage coming forward as more producers look to add value by turning them out to grass first.

"Farmers are concerned when feed barley prices are being quoted at £280 per tonne off the combine, but we're still seeing a huge demand for cattle with 15% of the stores sold on a Wednesday, selling to finishers in the south. However, there has to be a significant increase in the value of prime cattle to ensure the breeder gets some sort of margin and for the long-term viability of the industry."

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Further north, John Angus, head of livestock at Aberdeen and Northern Marts pointed out that while the younger types of cattle had been selling at similar levels to May 2021; prices were sharper on the week at their last sale which saw no fewer than 2031 head sell through the one ring and to a top of £2000 twice and 301p per kg.

With grass now growing better due to the warmer weather, he added that there is potential for the breeding cattle sales to improve too.

"At our last breeding cattle sale a few weeks ago, saw 204 heifers with calves at foot, average £2316, which was down £136 on the year. They were easy enough sold, but there were fewer £3000+ outfits and it was very obvious, producers were sticking to a budget."

Meanwhile, cast cattle are getting dearer on an almost weekly basis through ANM, with last week's sale of 203 cows and bulls averaging just shy of £1500 per head or 204p per kg.

Finished beef cows averaged £1674.37 having sold to £2370, with feeding beef cows to £1750 to level at £1285.33. Boning cows sold to £1010 and dairy types to £1230. Bulls averaged £2140.71, with a whopping lead price of £2790.