The beef trade has finally steadied up after a few uncertain weeks during the last month.

Numbers of finished cattle on the ground being presented to factories have started to tighten and factory agents are a lot easier to talk to this week.

Shed cattle have reduced in numbers and the only shed cattle that are now coming out is feedlot cattle.

Factories have been relying more and more on these larger units to shore up supplies in times of reduced numbers and based on the buying activity of some of these larger feedlots over the last two weeks, factories are anticipating leaning on these suppliers a lot more in the coming weeks.

Bullocks are working off a €5.05/kg base price in a lot of locations this week, up 5c/kg on the previous week.

There are still some plants trying to buy bullocks at €5.00/kg, but almost all are willing to go to the €5.05/kg base price when pushed.

Heifers are being quoted at €5.10/kg and I have heard some reports of €5.15/kg being paid where numbers are involved. There continues to be a wide range in breed bonus payments, with between 10c and 30c/kg being paid depending on what factory you are dealing with.

Regular customers and those dealing in numbers are working on 5c to 10c/kg higher than quoted prices. With numbers tightening and demand steady, there is a thought that quotes will improve further in the next two weeks.

Factories will emphasise that next week’s kill is a four-day kill with the bank holiday Monday, but the reality is that the majority of factories are working off a four-day week anyway.

Last week’s kill came in at 31,208 head of cattle, excluding calves, a similar number to the previous week’s figure of 31,232.

The bullock kill saw a big drop of almost 1,000 head to 11,244, the lowest kill of bullocks since 1 January.

The 2024 kill continues to run 30,000 head ahead of the 2023 kill, with a big reduction in kill numbers expected over the next few weeks.

All factories are hungry for cull cows, especially young well-fleshed cows.

At the top of the market, U grading cows are still up at €5.10/kg, with R grading cows coming in at €4.60/kg to €4.80/kg.

O+ suckler cows are generally working off €4.50/kg to €4.60/kg, while O grading dairy cows are being bought at €4.50/kg in the main.

P+3 cows are working off €4.00/kg to €4.20/kg depending on weight, age and flesh.

The mart continues to be the place to sell small numbers of cull cows, with returns well in excess of what is achievable in factories at the moment.

Young bulls are working off a €5.40/kg base price for U grading bulls.

R grading bulls are coming in at €5.25/kg to €5.30/kg, while O grading bulls are being bought at €5.10/kg to €5.15/kg.

P grading bulls are working off €4.95/kg to €5.05/kg depending on weight and flesh cover. Under-16-month bulls are working off a €5.00/kg to €5.10/kg base price. This is before any grid payments and the 12c/kg in-spec payment is paid.

IFA livestock chair Declan Hanrahan said: “The tide has now turned, following a number of weeks of factories taking advantage of stronger than expected supplies of cattle to reduce prices due to the weather difficulties faced by farmers.

“Factory agents have been instructed this week to leave no cattle behind.”

NI comment

Cattle are a slower trade in NI, as plants move to pull prices with quotes down 2p to 464p/kg (€5.68 inc VAT) for U-3 grading animals. Deals are back by 2p to 4p/kg, with 484p to 486p/kg (€5.93 to €5.96/kg) buying most animals.

Young bulls are also back in value, with 478p/kg (€5.85/kg) being reported, while cows are a steady trade between 370p and 390p/kg (€4.53 to €4.78/kg) depending on quality.