This week's factory leagues in the Irish Farmers Journal show a huge spread of prices paid by factories for the exact same type of cattle.

Farmers should use these tables to choose the factory they take their cattle to, bearing in mind transport costs.

When factories are buying cattle, they are always looking for animals that best meet the specifications of the customers they supply.

It follows that they will pay the best prices for the cattle that meet these specifications, so, for example, Foyle Meats in Donegal has a narrow weight range and is prepared to pay more for cattle that meet that specification.

Other factories that buy cattle on a flat-rate basis - as opposed to pricing on the grid - will typically be reporting higher than usual prices for lower P and R grades, while reporting lower prices for U grades, with the Jennings heifer prices illustrating this.

It is top of the table in the O and P grades, but bottom of the table for U prices.

Number of cattle reported

A further feature of the prices reported is the number of cattle bought in each grade.

Again using Jennings as an example, it only buys steers and heifers, so it has no prices returned for young bulls and cows.

For outlying grades such as U=3= cows, which are exceptionally rare, several factories don’t kill any of these in any week over the course of the year.

We can see from Figure 1 just how many weeks each factory has reported prices for each of the 16 different categories across steers, heifers, cows and young bulls.

Where a factory reports on a particular grade only occasionally - say less than six weeks in the year - we can be sure that they aren’t really interested in buying that type of cattle and we can expect that they will pay a relatively poor price.

On the other hand, we can see that all factories are looking for R=3= steers and heifers by the fact that they are all reporting prices for most weeks of the year.

This means that they are all chasing these types of cattle and if we look at the price gaps, we can see that they are just €73.50/head for R=3=steers based on average slaughter weight in 2022 and €55.98 for R=3= heifers.

The bottom line for farmers is that they should use the factory leagues for guidance to match stock with the most suitable factory.

Read more

Factory leagues: record spread in prices paid for cattle

Further consolidation in beef and sheep processing