Prime cattle prices see seasonal growth
Published:  25 July, 2016

Prime cattle prices have enjoyed some seasonal strength over the past month, but are still down on last year, according to Quality Meat Scotland (QMS). 

Despite steer prices rising around 17p/kg dwt over the past six weeks at 352p/kg dwt, they still trail last year’s prices by 23p/kg dwt.

Stuart Ashworth, QMS head of economics services, said: “Interestingly, the current rise in prime stock prices has occurred despite the June prime stock kill being higher than last year – around 2.5% in Scotland and by even more in the UK as a whole – and despite a fall in carcase weight and increase in prime beef availability.”

According to Ashworth, some of the improvement in average prices was likely to be due to a greater proportion of carcases falling within the preferred carcase weight range.

“The average Scottish steer carcase weight during June was reported to be 6kg lower than in May and 4kg per head lower than last year,” he said. “In contrast, average heifer carcase weights, where the issue of overweight carcases is not as pressing, are higher than last year despite falling 3kg between May and June.  

“On average, prime heifers are selling at slightly higher per kg prices than steers, perhaps reflecting the volume of heavy carcases in the mix.”


Elsewhere, the weekly kill of steers and heifers increased during June, a time when they normally fall.  

“Historically the steer kill has fallen further in July before steadying in August and then climbing slowly to a peak in October and November,” said Ashworth. “The heifer slaughter profile is similar.”

“Young bull slaughtering, which peaks in June and July, also increased, but has not reached the levels seen two years ago.”

“This year’s profile, combined with a fall in carcase weights, suggests a bringing forward of slaughterings,” commented Ashworth.  

“However, the growth in calf registrations in 2014, which continued into 2015, would suggest that also contributing to the slight increase in slaughter numbers is a basic increase in prime stock availability,” he added.

Looking at carcase weights, Ashworth added that they often peak in July and August and then fall as a “new crop” of 18-month-old spring-calved stock begin to reach the market in the autumn.  

He advised that earlier marketing to better meet carcase weight criteria could result in a short-term tightening of supply in July and August before slaughter numbers picked up as this “new crop” of cattle from spring 2015, when Scottish calf registrations were almost 1% higher than spring 2014, begin to reach the market.  

“However, by continuing to respond to the clear market signals in respect of carcase size, this increase in prime cattle numbers does not necessarily mean an increase in prime beef availability,” he added.