As one agent said to me this week, “there’s no magic bullet for the beef trade, when cattle are scarce the factory will pay more and when cattle are plentiful the factory will pay less, it’s that simple”.
One of the positives this week is that cattle are getting scarce, with a lot more activity in factory procurement offices trying to line up supplies for the next few weeks.
Last week’s kill dropped by another 1,200 head on the previous week – that’s a drop of almost 2,000 head in two weeks.
This tightness in supplies, coupled with an increased demand from retail orders in the UK, has seen prices edge upwards in the last week.
Donegal Meats was the first to break ranks last Friday, with the quote for Monday’s kill at €4.40/kg for heifers killing out between 300kg and 400kg.
Bullocks also moved up to €4.35/kg for the same weights. This is before the in-spec quality assurance (QA) bonus of 20c/kg is added.
Other factories have added the increases in a roundabout way and are sticking to sweeteners such as free haulage, no cuts for 4+ on fat, increased breed bonuses and more flat-priced deals being done to lure cattle into their lairage.
Quotes for heifers range from €4.20/kg to €4.25/kg, with very few heifers expected to be bought at €4.20/kg by the end of this week. Bullocks are moving at €4.15/kg to €4.20/kg, again with very few bullocks being bought at €4.15/kg.
Farmers have the next two weeks with the ball at their foot, so the advice is to bargain hard and make factories pay for your cattle.
Speaking to mart managers around the country, agent activity has ramped up in marts in the past two weeks, with a lot of cattle going straight from marts for the next day’s kill.
Because of falling numbers, factories have been forced down this route and are offering big premiums for agents who come up with the right cattle for them. Aberdeen Angus and Hereford cattle remain in big demand and bonuses of as high as 25c/kg are being paid on in-spec cattle.
There is also a little more appetite for young bulls, with a €4.15/kg to €4.20/kg base price being quoted for under-16-month bulls in most factories. Under-24-month bulls are generally working off €4.15/kg for R grades and €4.25/kg to €4.35/kg for U grades.
The cow trade has also stayed pretty steady over the last week, despite some factories focusing on their prime cattle kill. P+3 cows are working off €3.45/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 at €3.50/kg, while O grading suckler cows are at €3.60/kg.
R grading cows 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.
Across the water, the British beef price has also edged upwards in recent days, with R4L bullocks coming in at 413p/kg (€5.20/kg incl VAT).
Some larger finishers are on as high as 430p/kg (€5.40/kg incl VAT) in order to secure supplies. The British kill is down 4% compared with 2020 kill levels and numbers are expected to tighten further in the run-up to Christmas.
Prime cattle prices remain unchanged in Northern Ireland as supply and demand are closely aligned.
Base quotes remain on 394p/kg (€4.94/kg inc VAT) for U-3 grading animals.
Price deals are on par with previous weeks, with steers on 404p/kg (€5.07/kg) and 410p/kg (€5.14/kg) on heifers.
Cattle out of spec and those purchased under breed schemes are moving at base price. Cull cows are on a quote of 290p/kg (€3.64/kg) for R3 animals, with deals of 320p/kg (€4.02/kg) available.