Cattle agents are showing greater appetite for good-quality in-spec steers and heifers this week and farmers indicate there is scope to negotiate on price.
The majority of reports indicate an extra 2p/kg is on offer compared with last week and where farmers have bigger numbers to offload, those deals are being improved by 4p/kg.
Official quotes have also seen some upward momentum, with plants adding 2p/kg to bring U-3 animals to a base of 448p/kg.
However, that base is running 20p/kg below deals being paid to farmers. Most reports indicate 466p to 468p/kg is widely available this week, with 470p/kg also being paid with increased frequency.
Beyond these prices, there are deals reported at 474p/kg in return for bigger numbers as well as top-quality butcher-type heifers.
Supplies of in-spec cattle with higher levels of conformation are limited in availability. This is helping to boost price deals as buying demand for Christmas orders has now finished. However, there is another big factor at play this week which is underpinning price and processing demand.
There is growing concern among processors that DEARA vets and meat inspectors will vote in favour of taking strike action in December.
Such action would see local plants temporarily suspend the slaughter of cattle and sheep again, disrupting the supply chain.
As a contingency plan, factories are focused on maximising cattle throughput over the next fortnight in case another strike does come to fruition this side of Christmas.
Last week, the average price paid on steers and heifers across all grades rose by 0.5p to 453.86p/kg, with U3 steers gaining 1p/kg to average 467.3p/kg.
Heifers at the same grade rose by 0.7p to 467p/kg, with young bulls jumping 3.8p to 453.8p/kg.
Cull cows remain a challenging trade with quotes for R3 animals stuck on 326p/kg. Price deals are limited to little more than 10p/kg above this base.
NI sheep: tight supplies boosting lamb price
Factory prices are holding firm this week as supplies are tightening. While official quotes are unchanged at 530p/kg, factories are working at starting prices of 540p to 545p/kg to keep pace with the live trade and factories south of the border.
In Gortin, lambs are a strong trade, with 26kg selling to £128.50, 24kg to £124.50 and 22kg to £112.50.
In Kilrea, the trade was steady, with 1,250 lambs making 482p to 510p/kg, no change on last week. Top price was £121 for 24kg, 23kg to £114, 22.5kg to £111 and 21kg selling to £104.
Markethill sold 840 lambs in a slightly easier trade from 460p to 491p/kg.
Heavy lambs at 24.9kg reached £119.50, 24kg at £115 and £114. Quality middleweights made £112 for 22.9kg and £108 for 22kg.
Store lambs were an easier trade, making 495p/kg for 19kg at £94 and 483p/kg for 15.1kg at £73. In Ballymena, stores were slightly easier, selling from £85 to £94.50.
In Saintfield, a show of 840 lambs sold from 480p to 530p/kg, down by 8p to 14p/kg. However, lambs at 30kg made £130, on par with last week. Lambs at 27kg made £127, 26kg to £123, 24kg made £119, 22kg to £108 and 21kg to £105.
There was a slower trade for fat ewes this week. Gortin sold ewes to £145, with a run from £101 to £133. In Kilrea, the top was £142. The trade in Markethill sold to a top of £116. In Saintfield, the top was £160, with a run from £110 to £152.