There has been some upward price movement within the beef trade this week, with a growing number of farmers indicating an extra 2p to 4p/kg is available on in-spec cattle.
While there is still plenty of cattle being bought at 378p to 382p/kg, farmers killing animals on a more regular arrangement have managed to secure 386p to 388p/kg.
There are deals running ahead of this level, but they are mainly reserved for farmers selling bigger numbers.
Also, the higher price levels generally include premiums for providing in-spec animals or apply to butcher type heifers.
While there is more life in the trade, base quotes are unchanged on 362p to 370p/kg for U-3 grading animals.
Farmers with limited numbers are finding it difficult to negotiate on price and where herds are not under movement restrictions, the live ring continues to provide a good outlet for animals with higher conformation.
With plants closing for the bank holiday next week, throughput will be easier to manage and price is likely to hold steady.
But with demand set to rise in the run up to Easter and the relaxing of restrictions for the food service sector next month, processing demand is expected to grow in the weeks ahead.
Irish cattle are likely to benefit from this demand and with sterling strengthening, Northern buyers are extremely active at southern marts.
Last week, 373 Irish cattle were imported for direct slaughter at local plants, up 83 head on the week.
Across all grades of steers and heifers, prices averaged 370.17p/kg at local plants last week with U3 steers on 381.3p/kg. Both prices were relatively static but U3 heifers rose by 1p to 383.9p/kg.
Demand for cull cows is also firm, although base quotes remain unchanged on 275p/kg for R3 grading animals with O+3 cows on 265p/kg.
However, deals continue to be made well ahead of base quotes with good cows making 300p to 320p/kg.
NI sheep – Marts driving price increase
Limited supplies of finished hoggets and strong demand are fuelling higher prices in marts with increases of up to 29p/kg.
Prices above £140 are common place and have topped £150. Plants have raised quotes to 610p/kg, making a hogget worth £134.20 for 22kg deadweight but higher prices are being paid. One plant is paying to 23kg which is worth an extra £6/head.
In Kilrea, prices ranged from 557p to 626p/kg, up 15p to 26p/kg on last week. Heavy lots at 27kg made £140 with 24kg at £136.50. A great pen at 22kg made £133, while the best at 21kg made £131.50.
In Massereene, price ranged from 550p to 609p/kg, up 20p to 29p/kg on last week.
In Saintfield, prices ranged from 540p to 610p/kg, up 4p to 10p/kg on the week. Buyers paid £143 for 27kg, £142 for 26kg and £137 for 25kg. Hoggets at 22kg and 23kg sold to £130.
In Rathfriland, prices ranged from 540p to 629p/kg, with a sale average of 571p/kg up 23p/kg on the week. Top price was £147 for 26kg.
The trade in fat ewes is extremely buoyant with Kilrea selling to £181 and Massereene to £147. Saintfield sold ewes to £185. In Rathfriland, the top price was a record breaking £200. Next best at £188 with both prices for Texel ewes.