Young bulls remain at the centre of beef processing challenges.
Finishers are encountering difficulties on three fronts – getting bulls accepted for slaughter in significant numbers, moving bulls before they go overage and dealing with penalties imposed on what factories deem out-of-spec stock.
Starting with processing delays first, the higher number of bulls in the market, combined with reduced appetite from processors, is witnessing finishers contending firstly with getting bulls accepted for slaughter and then, in many cases, moving bulls in much smaller numbers.
Reports are common of farmers with anywhere from 40 to 100-plus bulls fit for slaughter working to a booking timeline of getting single digit numbers moved on a weekly basis.
There has also been an increase in farmers practising a bull finishing enterprise
The Irish Farmers Journal has also been contacted from a number of producers citing Foyle Meats concentrating on cattle that fit their new grid specification as leaving them needing to find a new home for bulls.
There has also been an increase in farmers practising a bull finishing enterprise, particularly with Friesian bulls.
Some of these bulls are not hitting desired fat scores and also risk going overage in the coming weeks, which is intensifying the uphill battle facing these producers.
Prices reported this week are also more variable.
Specialist finishers working closely with factories are still moving bulls on a general quote of €3.70/kg for Rs and €3.80/kg for U grades.
Bulls deemed overweight are facing cuts of 10c/kg, with the carcase weight limit kicking in anywhere from 430kg to 450kg on average, while some finishers are negotiating higher limits.
Cuts faced for bulls exceeding the 24-month age limit have been reported at 10c/kg to 15c/kg, with this also influenced by the numbers involved, processor-producer relationship and the finishing spec.
Off the grid
Bulls less than 16 months and exceeding a carcase weight of 420kg to 430kg are also being paid off the grid in many cases, with those hitting required spec generally trading on a base of €3.75/kg.
Friesian bulls are trading on average for €3.50/kg for good O grading bulls, with O- grading bulls and those lacking flesh selling 10c/kg to 15c/kg lower.
Steady steer and heifer demand
Factories remain keen for steers and heifers, with base prices now unchanged since October at €3.75/kg for steers and €3.85/kg for heifers.
Prices are running about 15c/kg to 20c/kg behind the corresponding period in 2018 when there was a dip in the trade from mid- to late January.
The cow trade is steady, but at a low level, with prices running as much as 40c/kg to 50c/kg behind comparable 2018 levels.
P+3 grading cows continue to average €2.60/kg to €2.70/kg, with O grades from €2.80/kg to €85/kg, while R grading cows range from €2.95/kg to €3.15/kg, with carcase weight having a significant influence on prices paid.
Likewise, U grading cows range anywhere from €3.20/kg to €3.40/kg, with firm wholesale demand and small numbers of top-quality cows helping to keep a firmer floor under the trade.
NI trade solid
The northern trade continues as is, with U-3 base quotes for steers and heifers ranging from £3.36/kg to £3.44/kg.
This equates to €3.82/kg to €3.91/kg at Monday evening’s exchange rate of 88p to the euro and €4.02/kg to €4.12/kg including Vat at 5.4%.
The potential for regular customers to secure higher than quoted prices has been highlighted in a report by the Livestock Meat Commission (LMC), which shows that, since September, finishers secured a premium ranging from 4p/kg to 11p/kg above base quotes.
This trend remains, with specialist finishers pushing top prices for steers to £3.50/kg, with heifers in cases breaching the £3.50/kg mark at the top of the market.
Snow and ice warning issued
ICBF launches new dairy beef index (DBI)
EU stands ready to support farmers in Brexit fallout - Hogan