Q1 Report: Aberdeen & Northern Marts reports on livestock trading conditions at Thainstone


Tuesday 22nd January 2019

Store cattle may hit the market earlier this spring as winter feed supplies are exhausted, according to Aberdeen and Northern Marts Head of Livestock, John Angus.

Finishing cattle have done well over the winter as they were generally housed earlier because of last summer’s weather and shortage of grass and more barley has been fed to compensate for scarce silage. Cattle courts are emptying and finishers are in the market for heavier store cattle to finish inside or lighter cattle to go on to grass.

“It’s a catch 22 situation,” says John. “Margins on finishing cattle are tight because of high feed costs which is understandably making buyers more cautious but breeders need the money to cover their costs.

“Prices were back 12p/kg on the year for steers and 13p/kg for heifers at our anniversary show and sale on January 4 but there was a bigger ringside of buyers than I’ve ever seen at the sale so cattle are wanted. Given the feed situation, sellers were happy with the trade.”

John expects big lots of yearling stores to start coming on the market to go on to grass from mid-February onwards and is confident they will be wanted.

Silage and hay are still commanding premium prices – good quality hay has been making over £40+ per bale to the horse market – at the weekly sale at Thainstone and there has been no easing yet in the price of straw, despite the open back-end which has shortened the winter.

But there’s still confidence in the market and a good offering of heifers met a strong trade at the sale of breeding stock on January 9, with in-calf heifers calving in February/March averaging £1,700 and heifers with calves at foot over £2,000.

“It is encouraging to see breeders replacing their breeding stock,” says John. “We could have sold more heifers on the day.”

Trade for cull cows is improving, up by about 14p/kg in recent weeks, and prime and cull cattle manager, Tim McDonald, is hopeful prices will firm further.

“Fleshy cull cows with good shape which have been fed are required but sellers should be careful to present them in clean condition to attract a premium price,” Tim advises.

The market for prime cattle is also tighter. The pre-Christmas delays in getting cattle moved has disappeared and abattoirs are moving cattle quickly, which is an indication of scarcity which should hopefully help prices to firm.

The market for old season lamb has started the year well on the back of a strong pre-Christmas trade but deputy head of livestock, Colin Slessor, cautions not to expect the phenomenal trade achieved last year when prices rose every week through the spring.

“I’m optimistic about the trade as lambs are scarce and I expect prices to continue firming over the next few weeks,” says Colin. “But don’t expect prices to reach the dizzy heights of last year which was a unique situation.”

Feed prices are 25% higher than last year which is having an effect on margins but if the open weather continues finishers might get away with less concentrate costs.

Moving the sale of cast ewes at Thainstone from Friday to Thursday when they are sold immediately after the prime lamb sale is working well for both buyers and sellers. Despite plenty of buying power, trade is described as “steady”, with best cull rams and heavy ewes making anything from £100 to £140/head in the live ring.

“With numbers likely to tighten, I’m optimistic we will see prices rise,” says Colin.

Trade for in-lamb ewes is expected to be good and store lambs are meeting a strong demand.