The Christmas bells are starting to ring in the beef trade, with an air of positivity starting to creep into the trade.

Factories had managed to keep a lid on prices for the last few weeks, but increased demand from the UK has meant a number of processors have had to increase quotes this week to secure supplies.

Bullocks continue to be bought at €4.15/kg in the main, with those with numbers and more bargaining power managing to squeeze €4.20/kg out of the market.

Heifers on the move

Heifers are a different story this week and a few processors have moved to €4.25/kg without a lot of haggling. More processors are expected to follow suit during the week as demand continues to grow for in-spec retail-bound beef.

Talking to farmers and procurement managers, the thinking is that the big beef kills that we have seen over the last few weeks are coming to an end and that numbers will start to get tighter from next week on.

Young bull prices

Young bulls haven’t changed, with €4.15/kg to €4.20/kg base price being quoted in most factories.

Under-24-month bulls are generally working off €4.15/kg for R grading bulls and €4.25/kg for U grading bulls.

One agent told me: “You really need everything right with bulls and you're putting your hand into the lion’s mouth with lean bulls or bulls lacking flesh at the moment.”

Cow trade

Cows continue to be an easier trade compared with a few weeks ago. Factories have shifted their efforts to prime beef and this has coincided with weather turning and extra cows coming on stream, especially towards the south of the country.

With milk price staying high, the likelihood is that some of these cows will be milked on over the winter period and no huge glut of cows is expected in the next few months.

P+3 cows are working off €3.40/kg to €3.50/kg, with heavier P grading cows coming into 340kg to 350kg carcase weight managing €3.55/kg.

O grading Friesian cows are coming in at €3.50/kg, while O grading suckler cows are able to squeeze €3.60/kg out of the market.

R grading cow continue to trade off €3.80/kg to €3.85/kg, while good-quality U grading cows are still capable of getting €4.00/kg and more depending on who is selling them.

With an easing in the cow trade across the water, Northern Ireland customers have also eased back the finger wagging or button pushing around the rings, with the very high prices seen being paid for dry cows a few weeks ago eased back somewhat in the last two weeks.

British prices

Across the water, prime cattle quotes continue to improve, with R4L steers coming in at €5.23/kg incl VAT.

Cows have eased somewhat in Britain in recent weeks, as processors switch to retail-spec beef ahead of the Christmas period.

The British beef kill continues to track 4% lower than 2020 levels. This reduction is expected to continue to trend downwards for the rest of the year.

Beef prices must move on to keep pace with the significant increases in the UK and EU cattle prices

Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) livestock chair Brendan Golden said: “Beef prices must move on to keep pace with the significant increases in the UK and EU cattle prices.

"The latest prime export benchmark price is €4.19/kg, which is 9c/kg above the prime Irish composite price of €4.10/kg.

"Beef prices in our key markets have strengthened consistently over the past number of weeks, up 10c/kg, against a background of static Irish prices.”