The vagaries of the live cattle business

Looking down through my notes on the week in the mart trade, I noticed one mart had significant numbers returning home unsold, while another saw prices lift, as dealers took profit on stock purchased previously at another sales ring almost 200 miles away!

Such are the vagaries of the live cattle business — be in the right place at the right time with the right stock, and you’re in clover.

But misjudge the trade, and your ambition may have to wait for another day.

Starting last Saturday in Macroom, where numbers were up on the previous week.

The added numbers seem to have helped lift the trade, with mart manager John O’Mahony commenting, “Prices were up on the previous week although not at the peak of a month ago”.

The quality of the cattle being the key issue governing Thursday’s prices, he said.

An interesting aspect of the trade in Macroom was that despite the recent dip in prices of bulls across the country, better quality weanling bulls made over three euro a kilo.

John did point out the ones in question were top conformation Limousins weighing between 200 and 250 kilos. However, Herefords on the sheets came in at €885 for 374 kg and €725 for 295 kg, equally respectable prices, given the breed.

This had us both wondering what the buyers intended for them, leave them as bulls or would the vet be called?

Moving to Tuesday of this week, and the sale in Nenagh, where there were 500 animals on show.

Michael Harty told me it was a very good turn out for the day of the year.

“Bullocks were a little dearer, if anything.”

Dry cows, always a good barometer of the trade, were “very firm.”

He cited the example of a Friesian cow which weighed in at 665 kg and was sold for €1,190 to a buyer who intends putting her to grass for a month or so and then selling her on to slaughter.

Right about the time Ireland will be kicking off their European soccer adventure in Poland, if I’m not mistaken. Beer, barbecues and burgers! Michael noted that some stock that have been out for six weeks or so are now not weighing so well due to the poor weather, and the effects of “a lighter diet” caused by the grass shortage in some areas.

The other side of that is that buyers tend to prefer the more “honest weights” and can possibly more easily see the animal’s future potential and pay accordingly.

Tuesday also saw a very active sale in Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan, with Michael Reilly saying that despite the slight reduction in numbers, the trade was “very good”.

I asked had the bad weather over last weekend not dampened spirits.

Michael replied that, “A lot of lads are foddering, but it hasn’t had any noticeable effect on prices.”

Local farmers he said were “very active” and with the northern men still travelling south to source stock, the trade in that part of the country appears to be remaining exceptionally strong.

Calves were as buoyant as previous weeks, and what appeared to be up in numbers was the supply of weanling animals.

This increase, Michael suggested, may be down to the weather, as some farmers lightened the load on heavier ground, thus reducing the need for the purchase of expensive feed.

Despite this, he told me that there are a lot of bales on the move up Cavan way.

West of the Shannon in Tuam, last Monday, Marion Devane saw over a yard of 500 cattle.

It was here however that some sellers drew a line in the sand, as prices eased somewhat, with 70 animals returning home unsold!

Prices for heavier stock in particular were a little easier. Again, the weather was a factor, with Marion saying that “Grass now appears burnt” as a result of the breeze and the frost they have been getting most nights recently.

I reminded her that a month ago, she told me that the good weather and good prices had seen spring break out all over.

“Yes“, she said, “but now the year is going backwards.” Marion noted that a number of regular buyers were absent on Monday, and that may have caused prices to ease a bit.

However, having looked at the sheets, the prices paid still appear — to me anyway — to be plenty respectable.

In Tipperary town, Mark Donovan says they had a “fine trade” for the 330 cattle on offer last Friday.

Numbers, he said, were like many marts in the last week, “well maintained, but prices maybe not at the high of six weeks ago.”

Another recurring theme in Tipperary was the fact that they are also seeing increased numbers of 250 kilo to 350 kilo stock.

Mark said a lot of the men bringing out these animals would be dairymen who traditionally would have kept them until the autumn.

Now, however, like in many other places, they are taking the opportunity to move them on, thus easing the burden on limited grass supplies, while cashing in on the demand.

I asked did he think supplies of stores would be limited in the autumn, as a result of this trend?

“Given all the calves in the country that are left?” he asked, by way of reply.

It will be very interesting to see what the trade will be like, should those numbers actually materialise next back end.

Meanwhile down in Kenmare, Co Kerry, Dan McCarthy says numbers have fallen off in line with the time of year.

“We had a small sale with the strongest prices being for older cows with a calf at foot.” Dan gave me the example of the 12 or 13-year old cow that had a strong bull calf in tow, and made €1,365.

A great price. However, his question to me was, “What would she have made if you’d sold her last back end? €400?” While the sale was small last Thursday, he expects that numbers will be up for this Thursday’s weanling sale.

All told, there appears to have been a deal of diversity in the trade up and down this week, with buyers still very active but becoming progressively more selective, and prices easing back for younger and plainer stock, possibly due to the length of keep required.

One thing is certain, though, both sellers and buyers await the return of better “kinder” weather.

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