Steady as she goes was how one agent described the cattle trade to me this week.

There was further murmurings last week about the beef price coming back, in particular for bullocks, but this again hasn’t materialised to any great extent.

I would say that some factories aren’t as willing to go that extra little bit when buying cattle to secure them, but appetite is still good. Bullocks, despite the increased kill, continue to trade off €4.20/kg to €4.25/kg.

While €4.30/kg was going to the bigger suppliers last week, it’s less common this week.

Heifers continue to meet good demand, with €4.30/kg to €4.35/kg being paid for in-spec heifers.

Cows also remain in demand, with all factories eager for supplies, despite some sending out mixed messages this week.

R grading cows continue to work off €3.85/kg to €3.90/kg, with U grading cows still able to hit €4.00/kg in most factories.

O grading cows are trading off €3.70/kg to €3.75/kg, while P grading cows are back at €3.60/kg to €3.65/kg, depending on quality and level of flesh.

Young bulls are in short supply and the price has held well, at €4.20/kg to €4.25/kg.

Older bulls are generally working off €4.20/kg for R grading bulls and €4.30/kg to €4.35/kg being paid for U grading bulls.

Last week’s kill came in at 34,014, the highest kill of prime cattle so far this year.

The high kill is underpinned by factory demand and some factories chose to kill on Saturday last week to make up for the lost day’s killing this week with the bank holiday.

The bullock kill saw the biggest lift, with an extra 2,212 bullocks killed last week.

Cattle born in the first week of February 2019 are coming up to 30 months old this week, so this has likely flushed out a few extra cattle ahead of the 30-month limit.

The heifers kill has remained very steady over the last few weeks, hovering around the 8,500 mark.

The heifer kill has seen the largest drop in the year to date, with almost 30,000 fewer heifers killed so far in 2021 compared with the same period in 2020.

The cow kill was back 721 head last week to 6,660, with the big cow kills now gone for a few months until weaning starts in the suckler herd.

With a positive milk price, dairy farmers are expected to milk on and leave offloading until later in the year.

The young bull kill continues to fall, with 409 fewer young bulls slaughtered last week compared with the week previous.

The young bull kill stood at 1,738 head last week. There is almost 65,000 fewer cattle killed in 2021 compared with the same period in 2020.

Bord Bia has estimated that this could go as high as 120,000 head fewer by the end of the year.

Across the water, beef prices continue to improve, with tight numbers forcing British factories to lift quotes again last week.

R4L steers are coming in at the equivalent of €5.10/kg incl VAT this week.

The AHDB released its meat market outlook last week for the rest of the year and it looks positive. A recovering food service trade and strong retail sales, coupled with a tighter supply of finished cattle, points to a bumper back end for British beef farmers.

NI comment

The beef trade is Northern Ireland is holding steady, with no movement in quotes or price deals.

Base quotes on U3 cattle remain on 392p to 394p/kg (€4.86 to €4.89/kg inc VAT). Steers are moving off farm from 400p to 404p/kg (€4.96 to €5.01/kg), while heifers are faring better with an extra 2p to 6p/kg on offer for regular finishers with bigger numbers.

Demand for cull cows is extremely strong, with prices of 330p to 340p/kg (€4.09 to €4.22/kg) on offer for good-quality suckler types, well ahead of base quotes on 312p/kg (€3.82/kg) for R3 animals.