The beef trade is starting January with an air of positivity, although there is no real movement on pricing as yet.
While the shorter kill week has generally helped processors to source cattle to fill orders, there are signs that the availability of prime animals is beginning to tighten.
Several farmers report that factory agents have been in contact in recent days wanting additional cattle delivered this week.
Others state that they are able to offload cattle within a few days of booking animals for slaughter.
While cattle agents are hungry for all classes of stock, farmers with a good supply of in-spec heifers are in a particularly strong position to negotiate on price.
Farmers offloading steers report deals of 406p to 410p/kg on offer
Base quotes are unchanged this week, which keeps U-3 grading animals on 392p and 394p/kg. However, this falls well short of the price deals on offer.
Farmers offloading steers report deals of 406p to 410p/kg on offer.
Heifers are moving around the 410p to 412p/kg mark, with 2p to 4p/kg more on offer for butcher-type animals.
Processors are managing to keep a lid on the trade, preventing any major uplift in the prices being paid for cattle.
As an alternative to offering higher prices, some processors are waiving penalties on cattle exceeding carcase weight limits. Others are covering transport costs or offering flat deals on out-of-spec animals.
On U3 grading cattle, the average price paid for steers was 408.6p/kg, while heifers averaged 410.2p/kg. Young bulls averaged 389.7p/kg
Last week, the average price paid across all grades of steers and heifers was 396.85p/kg. On U3 grading cattle, the average price paid for steers was 408.6p/kg, while heifers averaged 410.2p/kg. Young bulls averaged 389.7p/kg.
Processing demand for cull cows is holding firm, with base quotes on R3 grading animals sticking on 290p/kg. O+3 cow quotes are back at 280p/kg.
However, deals continue to be offered well ahead of these prices, with 310p to 320p/kg being paid on good-quality suckler types.
Last week, the average price paid on R3 cows was 317.4p/kg.
With the marts reopening after the Christmas holidays, the trade for hoggets is generally steady, although heavy lots are a slightly easier sell.
At the plants, quotes are steady on 570p/kg, making hoggets worth £125.40 at the 22kg carcase limit.
Kilrea sold 580 hoggets from 516p to 549p/kg. Heavy hoggets at 27kg sold to £129, 24.5kg to £124.50, 21kg to £110 and stores at 19.5kg making £100.
Massereene sold 559 hoggets from 500p to 532p/kg. Hoggets at 26kg sold for £130, with 24kg selling from £120 to £125.50.
The trade in Saintfield was firm. Heavy hoggets at 32kg and 28kg made £147 and £133. Hoggets at 25kg sold to £127, 24kg to £123, 22kg made £116.50 and stores at 18kg made £100, with 16kg at £90.
In Rathfriland, a small show of 350 hoggets sold from 500p to 572p/kg and averaged 518p/kg.
In Ballymena, meal-finished hoggets at 24kg and 25kg made £127. Two pens of Charollais-cross hoggets made £125.
Fat ewes are a firm trade. In Kilrea, ewes sold to £147 and in Massereene, ewes made £144. In Saintfield, the top was £219 and in Rathfriland, it was £164.