Many finishers are marketing cattle early to cash in on strong prices, amid talk of supplies tightening in the coming months.
Average carcass weights for prime steers and heifers are more than 3kg lighter than last summer and young bulls are 8kg lighter.
This suggests the strongest trade since Christmas 2017 is coaxing cattle out of sheds earlier.
Liveweight rings have seen 30p/kg more on the year on average and deadweight prices have been 45-50p/kg up on the year.
Liveweight throughputs for the past four weeks are up on the year by 21% for steers and 10% for heifers. Major processors are also taking more clean cattle.
Talk of Scottish deadweight base prices hitting 400p/kg have been fuelled by another 5p/kg from several processors this week. This takes Scottish values to around 386-391p/kg.
Beef values have rewarded farmers since the industry rebalanced the carcass in the spring, said Robert Venner, managing partner of Sedgemoor Livestock market.
Mr Venner said clean cattle were regularly at 200p/kg or more and the best steers and heifers were hitting 225p/kg, with trade 45p/kg up on the doldrums of early March.
He said supermarkets lifted mince prices (60-70% of a carcass is minced) so they could lower prices for other cuts and drive demand.
And he said Covid-19 has limited travel plans, meaning more domestic demand through August.
“Normally we have more holidaymakers abroad than coming in, but this August there are more mouths to feed,” said Mr Venner.
The end of the furlough scheme was one big cloud on the horizon, with big businesses making redundancies and recession starting to take hold, he added.
Good suckler-bred cattle have hit £1,600-£1,700 at Market Drayton, which is £300 up on the year, said managing director and cattle auctioneer Bernie Hutchinson.
Large entries of close to 300-head have been seen. Steers and heifers have averaged more than 200p/kg and about 10% of last week’s store ring was bought for slaughter.
He said throughputs were good, with finishers opting to sell the larger (400kg plus) cattle live, to avoid penalties, but that supplies were likely to tighten in the autumn.
“I think numbers will be tight – not many vendors are sat on big numbers of cattle and the medium-sized finishers haven’t restocked as normal. I don’t think we’ll see a flush of cattle coming off grass. They’ve been sold early and pushed on to cash in on better prices.”
Increase in beef bought in retail in the 12 weeks to 12 July, according to AHDB
Average weight of dressed steer carcasses in July 2020, 3.5kg lighter than July 2019
Number of prime steers sold for more than £1,700 a head at Ballymena last week (13 August), with trade topping at £1,900 for a Limousin-sired steer