Cattle prices surge as factories vie for stock - Further rises forecast as shortage drives ‘fierce competition’

Cattle arriving to Carrick onh Suir Mart. Picture: Pat Moore
Cattle arriving to Carrick onh Suir Mart. Picture: Pat Moore

Louise Hogan and Claire Fox

Factory buyers have binned weight and age penalties and upped prices as they battle to secure cattle supplies.

Up to 425c/kg for heifers and 410-415c/kg for steers was paid by factories yesterday. This is a lift of 10c/kg or €35 per animal on last week, but agents were still struggling to secure sufficient numbers.

Fierce competition for cattle has also resulted in lucrative deals being done for cows and for overage and overweight bullocks and heifers — animals that “were not wanted in times of plenty”, as one industry source described them.

O-grade bullocks over 30 months were bought this week for 400c/kg flat, while 390c/kg was paid for P- grade animals. Meanwhile, good-quality continental fat cows have topped €1,800 in the marts on the back of buoyant demand from factory agents and finishers.

New Ross Mart auctioneer Jim Bushe described the trade for continental cows on Saturday as “cruel dear”.

A 600kg red Limousin topped the sale, making €1,500 or €2.50/kg, but he said over €2/kg was freely available.

Similar prices were on offer in Roscommon Mart where an 850kg Charolais cow sold for €1,820.

Big prices are also being offered for plainer suckler cows, and those from the dairy herd.

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Factories bought P-grade cows in the west this week for flat prices of between 350c/kg and 360c/kg.

The shortage of finished stock has already hit throughput in the factories, with some forced to cut kills to three and four days as a result of tight supplies.

While the weekly kill is still historically high at over 33,000 head, one industry source maintained that factories now needed to process over 35,000 head each week because of reduced carcass weights and increased market demand.


With cattle supplies likely to remain tight for the next two months, industry commentators are forecasting further price rises.

ICSA beef chairman Edmund Graham said the shortage of finished stock had to be taken advantage of by beef farmers and he advised them to make the most of the opportunity when the factories came calling for cattle.

“The long winter may have some small upside in that cattle will be very scarce in May and June,” Mr Graham explained.

“Farmers need to push hard to get prices up where they have cattle to kill,” he added.

Normally, some cattle would be put out to grass much earlier and fit to kill in early summer.

In addition, many farmers with surplus fodder would, in other years, keep cattle fed indoors into mid-May.

Commenting on the flat-price buying by the factories, ICMSA’s livestock chairman Des Morrison claimed it rendered the beef grid irrelevant.

“The factories cut prices last January and left farmers with no profit and substantial feed bills.

“Those same factories are now perfectly happy to buy animals — and age doesn’t seem to be a particular factor — at flat prices agreed off the grid,” Mr Morrison added.

“What this demonstrates yet again is that the current beef grid is actually itself past its ‘sell-by’ date.

“We’ve shown repeatedly that the grid has taken millions from farmers since its introduction which ICMSA alone opposed,” he claimed.

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