A sharp rise in the number of young stock on farms at the end of last year, and a shift by finishers towards earlier maturing bull beef, could boost cattle supplies this autumn.
Scarcity has proved to be a driving force for higher beef prices over the past 18 months, with beef producers benefiting from an increase of 36pc in prices over the past two years.
The livestock census returns to December 2011, which were published by the CSO last week, showed that the population of animals up to a year old on farms had increased by 173,000hd compared to 12 months earlier.
This is accounted for by a fall off in live exports in 2011 and a 5pc increase in the number of calves registered. Calf registrations topped 2,09m head last year, with the main increase coming from the expansion of the dairy herd.
At the same time, the switch by beef finishers to earlier-maturing young bull beef is continuing, which should result in a lift in beef supplies available to the factories during the later months of this year.
Young bull beef animals are generally maturing to beef at 18-22 months and at heavier weights compared to steers.
Tight supplies of cattle will be critical if prices to producers are to be maintained for the back end of the year.
It had been predicted that cattle supplies this autumn would be back by 50,000hd, but the current switch to bull beef could give factory throughput an unexpected lift.
However, Michael Guinan of the ICMSA's beef committee, described as unfounded concerns that an increase in cattle supplies or the switch to bull beef would hit prices.
He said that the reduction in cattle supplies since the middle of last year was continuing to impact on the market. On this basis he predicted that prices would hold for the remainder of this year.