Power remains with beef finishers this week, as farmers grow in confidence in hammering out beef deals with factories.

Factories are now in peak Christmas mode for the week, with some big orders to be filled both in the UK and in continental Europe.

The tightness in prime cattle supplies has caught some procurement managers by surprise and with finished cattle in short supply, they have been left with no option but to up the quotes for cattle bought this week.

Farmers with cattle to sell are reporting a lot of interest from different factory agents for prime cattle, with a lot of agents being issued instructions to leave no cattle behind them for the next two weeks.

One farmer I spoke to this week sold cattle to an agent in the yard at 7pm on Monday evening, with the cattle loaded at 10pm that night.

Farmers should bargain hard on everything this week - weights, haulage and breed bonuses - as there’s loads of scope for extras given where current trade is at.

Bullocks are being quoted at €4.75/kg to €4.80/kg this week, with some bullocks even making €4.85/kg this week when sold along with heifers.

Heifers are being quoted at €4.80/kg to €4.90/kg this week. Flat deals of €5.25/kg are available for in-spec Aberdeen Angus heifers this week.

Farmers with bigger loads of cattle are in an even stronger position for bargaining for better quotes as factories look for numbers.

Bull trade

The bull trade has also taken a lift this week, with €4.90/kg being paid for U grading under-24-month bulls this week. A little more is also on the table for those with numbers.

R grading bulls are being quoted at €4.80/kg to €4.85/kg, with a little more going to regular suppliers and those with numbers.

O and P grading bulls are trading at 5c/kg to 10c/kg less than this. Under-16-month bulls are generally working off base prices of €4.70/kg to €4.75/kg.

Cow prices

Good, well-fleshed cows remain a solid trade. Light P1 parlour cows remain under pressure, with many factories shying away from the poorer cows, with some quoting under €2/kg for parlour cows.

Well-fleshed P+3 cows continue to trade at €3.80/kg to €3.90/kg, depending on weight and quality.

O grading cows are working off €3.90/kg to €4.15/kg depending on the processor, while good R grading cows are coming in at €4.20/kg to €4.40/kg.

U grading cows are being quoted at €4.40/kg to €4.50/kg.

Last week’s kill came in at 38,250 head, a drop of 745 on the previous week.

The bullock kill dropped again last week by over 200 head, while the heifer kill remained steady.

The majority of cows being killed are cull Friesian cows, with some dairy farmers in nitrates difficulty also offloading productive cows to reduce numbers.

Last week’s kill was on a par with the same week in 2022. So far in 2023, there have been 51,561 fewer cattle killed compared with the same period in 2022.

The EU and UK beef markets continue to outperform the Irish beef market, with the latest information from the Bord Bia price tracker showing a 30c/kg gap between the Irish beef price and that of its main markets.

NI comment

The beef trade is improving at NI plants this week, with agents keen for in-spec cattle.

Quotes are up 2p to 448p/kg (€5.42/kg inc VAT) for U-3 animals, with deals on steers and heifers generally running around 468p to 472p/kg (€5.67 to €5.72/kg), with the higher end of these prices easier to come by on bigger numbers.

Cull cows are a poor trade, with quotes for R3 animals on 326p/kg (€3.95/kg) and deals around 335p/kg (€4.06/kg).