Beef processors are growing increasingly concerned that a major shortage of finished cattle will develop during the early stages of next year.
Throughput has been exceptionally strong throughout 2022, with the autumn period in particular, seeing unprecedented numbers of cattle processed on a weekly basis.
The prime kill is running 8% above the same period last year, equating to an additional 25,000 head processed to date.
Since early October, weekly slaughter numbers have consistently hit record levels, and with forecasts showing significantly fewer cattle on farm, supply pressure looks to be inevitable in the months ahead.
There are also concerns that high input prices, especially of concentrate feed, mean less meal will be fed this winter, thereby delaying animals coming to market next year.
In an effort to ringfence supplies, mart managers indicate specialist finishers are now much more active around the rings, purely on the back of factories wanting cattle for early spring.
However, marts are also seeing numbers tightening significantly, boosting prices as competition between feedlot operators intensifies.
Reports indicate that as the availability of heavy-fleshed animals dwindles, finishers are turning to lighter animals more suited to a 70- to 100-day feeding period. Prices for good-quality stores are in the region of 250p to 270p/kg.
Processors are trying to play down the concerning outlook on supply and this week, base quotes are unchanged at 428p/kg.
However, with regular finishers filling a large percentage of weekly throughput, prices continue to run well ahead of official quotes.
Steers are edging upwards, with more reports of 442p/kg on offer along with deals on transport, and penalties on out-of-spec stock being waived.
Heifers are moving around 446p/kg, with reports of 450p/kg at the top of end of the market.
Prices are also improving in the Republic of Ireland as numbers tighten and processors grow anxious about the availability of cattle in the weeks ahead. Having fallen 40p/kg behind NI in recent weeks, there is plenty of scope for higher prices to farmers south of the Irish border.
Prices for fat lambs got a welcome boost this week jumping 15p/kg to a base of 530p/kg. However, most reports indicate regular finishers are securing 540p to 545p/kg.