No matter what the price of beef is, there is always a big range of prices paid between factories for the exact same type of animal. Based on average slaughter weights, up to €225 per head more was paid for R3 cows and €180 per head more for O=3= steers between the highest- and lowest-paying factories that reported prices for at least 10 weeks last year. The smallest gap in prices paid was €71 for U=3= heifers.

One of the frequent warnings we give in presenting this data is to be conscious of how external factors may influence the prices paid. These include the likes of organic and speciality breeds for which factories pay a premium – if there are substantial numbers of these in a factory’s kill, then the prices they report will be inflated. Similarly, some factories pay an extra bonus to attract cattle in a narrow weight range, which others buy off the grid, and deals at flat-rate prices will often reflect higher prices for lower grades and lower prices for the top grades.

Another variable that can distort the picture is the effect of a factory killing a minuscule number of cattle over the year and if these were bought at either an exceptionally high or exceptionally low price, they won’t necessarily reflect the mainstream value.

To address this, an extra column has been added to this year’s league tables identifying the number of weeks in the year for which prices in each particular grade for each factory were reported.

Main findings

The categories chosen to reflect 2023 are four different grades from steers, heifers, young bulls and cows.

These are U=3=, R=3=, O=3= and P+ 3= giving 16 categories overall and cover the vast majority of cattle that are going through Irish factories.

All the factories that reported for 2022 are still reporting in 2023. Kavanagh Meats Enniscorthy started price reporting during 2023 but are excluded from the leagues as they don’t have a full year of data. Kildare Chilling is separate from the Dawn group because that deal was only concluded during the year.

While factories outside the main groups claimed several podium positions, some of which were based on a small number of cattle reported, several of them including ABP, Dawn and Kepak occupied positions in top half of the table. (See below)

Foyle may have had less podium positions than previous years but it was still there or thereabouts and it is one of the factories that pays extra for a narrow weight range on steers and heifers.

Ashbourne pushed into the top three for O=3= steers and was a consistent buyer as it reported for 52 weeks in that category. It was second for P+3= young bulls though with a small sample size.

Moyvalley claimed a first and second place in P+3= and O=3= young bulls, while Eurofarm was second for R=3= young bulls with Foyle top for the U=3= grade. Liffey claimed a third place finish in the P+3= young bull category.


When it comes to cows, the top positions are dominated by factories outside the main groups. C&J Meats is widely known as a strong buyer of top-quality cows and this is reflected in the table where it occupies the top position for U=3= and R=3= cows and a second place for O=3= cows.

These are the best-quality suckler-bred cows and C&J reported on these for 46 and 52 weeks for the U and R grading cows, respectively, in 2023.

Traditional Meat Company took top position for the O=3= and P+3= cows, reporting on 50 and 25 weeks, respectively, and a second place for the R=3= grade based on 51 weeks reporting.

Liffey is also a strong cow buyer and had two third places, with Dawn Ballyhaunis and ABP Nenagh claiming one each.

Group performance

ABP has the edge on U=3= and R=3= steers and heifers though it is pipped by Dawn for the O=3= grade, who are also top for the P+3= grade followed by Kepak with ABP back in third.

The top positions are divided between the big three for young bulls but when it comes to cows, when the factories outside the main groups are taken together, they are the top-payers in all categories apart from P+3= grade. There were some excellent cow prices paid in 2023 and this merits further analysis.

Factory margins

Irish beef processing is privately owned and there are no accounts published with the exception of Foyle and C&J Meats whose businesses operate both sides of the border and in the case of Foyle it has two abattoirs in Britain as well.

Dunbia, which is the UK division of Dawn Meats also publishes accounts and while this is outside the Republic of Ireland, between them they will give an indication of the financial performance. As well as being a very limited sample, we also have to note that in these cases accounts are for the 2022 financial year.

Suckler cows and calves.

C&J has a factory outside Lifford in Co Donegal, a cutting plant in Co Armagh and is a stakeholder in an abattoir in Co Antrim. In the year to 30 November 2022, it had a turnover of £69.1m (€80.3m), up from £58.9m (€68.5m) in 2021.

Operating profit for the year was £727,025 (€845,377) and after interest and taxation, profit for the year was £490,692 (€570,572). The breakdown of sales is £37m (€43m) to the UK with £32m (€37m) to Europe.

Dunbia, the UK division of Dawn Meats since 2020, also continues to publish annual accounts. It is headquartered in Dungannon Co Tyrone, where it has a beef and sheep abattoir, cutting plant and retail packing unit. Across the UK, it has 13 locations and for 2022 posted a £1.37bn (€1.59bn) turnover with an operating profit of £12.79m (€14.87m).

The Foyle Food Group has an abattoir and cutting plant located in Cargins, Co Donegal, and two in Northern Ireland at Lisahally, Co Derry, and Omagh, Co Tyrone. It also has two factories in Britain. Turnover at the Foyle Food Group Holdings Ltd increased to £482m (€560.4m) in 2022, up from £410m (€476.7m) in 2021 with operating profit at £12.9m (€15m) compared with £14.6m (€17m) the previous year and net profits were £9.3m (€10.8m), down from £10.7m (€12.4m) in 2021.

Numbers useful for guidance and an indication of trends

Looking at factory profit figures where they exist, profits that are stated in multiple millions look spectacular. There is do doubt that a well-run beef processing business can be extremely profitable but when the numbers are analysed in these examples, we can see that profit margins are running between just under 1% and 2.7%.


The other question that remains unanswered is how representative are these numbers for beef processing in the Republic of Ireland?

All of the Dunbia business is UK-based as is the largest percentage of the Foyle business and the C&J business has a significant contribution from northern cattle, as well as from its Donegal factory. As with the factory league tables for cattle prices, these numbers are useful for guidance and an indication of trends.