Deadweight cattle prices in all sectors and in all regions have again slipped on the week, despite ever increasing costs of production and a bigger percentage of breeding herd culled out.

Latest figures for the week to July 16, show steers sold through Scottish abattoirs slipped almost a penny on the previous week to average 449.4p, with heifers falling 3.4p to 452.4p, and young bulls down 3.5p to 438.0p. Even the cull cow trade fell on the week, with those sold north of the Border down almost 5p per deadweight kg, to level at 382.9p.

The good news, if there is any, is that while all finished cattle fell on the week and in all areas, deadweight prices have been slightly higher in Scotland, highlighting some sort of premium.

In contrast, many of the live auction sales staged this week, improved on the previous seven days, and particularly those south of the Border where there are more independent retailers.

On Monday, steers, heifers and young bulls sold in England and Wales levelled at 251.2p (+11.5p); 248.3p (+9.5p) and 225.7p (+0.2p) respectively. The trend continued on the Tuesday with the same cattle cashing in at 255.5p (+5.4p); 271.7p (+5.6p) and 235.8p (3.0p), respectively.

“Our cattle have been dearer this week than they have been for a number of weeks,” said Scott Ferrie, head cattle auctioneer at Darlington Farmers Auction Mart, who added that 880kg bulls were selling at 285-290p per live kg, with the best of heifers weighing 550-620kg at 310p+ per kg and steers of a similar weight at 300p.

“There has been a shortage of cattle in the south as a number of producers have either been at the Great Yorkshire Show, or have been at harvest, so our trade has been up.

“Where we score at live markets south of the Border is the fact that producers are not penalised for having overweight or older cattle. Age and weight doesn’t matter down here. Our trade is governed by the independent wholesalers.”

Mr Ferrie added that a bigger concern to the industry and the wider food sector is the number of cows being culled and not being replaced.

“We’re seeing young cows selling at 264p per kg, so there are no second chances out there for those that don’t hold to the bull, are lame or don’t produce enough milk. People are also reducing their cow numbers and not replacing them when they cost so much to keep,” he added.

Neil Shand, chief executive of the National Beef Association, was equally concerned about the nationwide reduction in cow numbers.

“The amount of cows being sold off is a real worry. There is going to be a double digit retraction in the national suckler cow herd when cull cow prices are so high. Such prices are effectively encouraging producers to get rid of productive cows. There needs to be a far bigger difference between the value of clean cattle and cull cows.”

Mr Shand also hit out at the argument that there is less demand for red meat due to the cost of living crisis.

“The people who ate red meat before are still eating meat. There is still a lot of money sloshing about in the system as there is a large section of society that is able to save money by working from home.

"You only have to look at the roads to see that they are still clogged up with vehicles, so people still have money, they just chose to spend it differently. It’s a bit like Covid, they don’t eat out the same and maybe switch supermarkets.

Further north, Tim MacDonald, prime cattle auctioneer at Aberdeen and Northern Marts’ Thainstone Centre described the cull cow trade as “ruthless.”

“Farmers are putting cows down the road for the least wee thing. Even if it looks at you the wrong way it goes when the trade is so dear. A typical 700kg Aberdeenshire beef cow comes to a lot of money when cull cow values are 30p per kg up on the year compared to clean prime cattle which are only 10p per kg up,” said Mr MacDonald.