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AHDB Cattle and Sheep Weekly

10 March 2014

EBLEX Cattle Weekly - 7 March 2014EBLEX Cattle Weekly - 7 March 2014

Signs of buoyancy in cattle trade

With reports suggesting that the trade has been a little more buoyant than of late, despite increased numbers coming forward, prime cattle prices on average remained at a similar level to the week earlier. AHDB/EBLEX estimates suggest that in week ended 1 March throughputs were up nearly 4% or 1,200 head on the week. Despite this, the all prime average price levelled at 363.5p/kg. In the latest week, price increases were evident across some cattle categories, with both heifer and young bull overall average values increasing. In contrast, having demonstrated some stability for most of the month, steer prices declined. The R4L steer price was back 2p on the week to reach its lowest point in over a year at 373.0p/kg, as supplies appeared to be particularly abundant.

Cow prices continued their upwards movement in week ended 1 March. At 232.5p/kg the overall average price increased another 4p on the week and has moved up more than 10p/kg over the month. Although they still remain a long way behind the record prices of last summer, more producers are reportedly adding finish and benefiting from the higher prices that quality cows attract.

Suckler breeding herd in England declines again

According to DEFRA, the total number of cattle and calves in England, as of 1 December, was marginally up on the year, having totalled 5.3 million head. At 1.84 million head the total female breeding herd was marginally down on year earlier levels. At this point the breeding herd has been falling year on year since 2002, although given the disruptions of Foot and Mouth in 2001, the slight rise recorded in 2002 may have been somewhat anomalous.

While the overall breeding herd is still showing decline, the component parts of it are now diverging. At 1.14 million head the dairy herd showed a second consecutive year of growth, increasing by more than 1% on year earlier levels. In contrast, the suckler herd has continued to decline, falling a further 3% on the year to 699,000 head. This decline in beef cow numbers reflects the on-going concerns over profitability in the beef sector.

Meanwhile the rise in dairy cow numbers is reflective of the DairyCo farmer intentions survey, which shows that the dairy industry is more optimistic and some sections are looking to expand.

Looking at slaughter cattle numbers, there is some potential for a modest increase in supplies in the short term. The number of male cattle on the ground over two years of age and those aged between one and two years were both higher on the year. However, looking further ahead, the number of cattle under one-year-of-age was lower. This situation clearly has implications for longer term beef production, especially when combined with the declining breeding population of beef breeding animals.

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