Farmers queue up to buy cattle

The January sales in many department stores will see retailers slashing prices on unsold stock, and long queues forming by those afraid of missing out on a bargain.

December in the cattle trade can, on occasion, see buyers develop an equally blinding ambition to beat all comers to what they perceive to be a rapidly reducing supply of stock as they battle to fill their quotas.

Beginning in Corrin on Tuesday, where Sean Leahy told me that despite a good turn out for the day of the year and an excellent trade, overall “we had less factory cattle and fewer cows”. Numbers of heifers were maintained although it was noticeable that perhaps the quality wasn’t as good as recently, Sean said.

He also commented that the number of lighter heifers had increased but with examples including Simmentals of 360 kilos making €725 prices were “moving upwards”.

Moving upwards as well was the “good Friesian bullock”, Sean said, citing the example of three Friesians who averaged 460 kilos making €800, while four more of 407 kilos also made €800. That’s €1.74 a kilo and €1.97 respectively. “A good price,” Sean commented.

Also improving to over €2 a kilo were what Sean called the lighter better store. Examples here included eight Hereford bullocks of 380 kilos who made €780 and a further nine Herefords of 430 kilos who stopped at €890.

The trend for increased prices saw two to three week old Friesian bull calves make from €192 to €220 a piece while their Continental cousins of he same age were pushing €240 to €320 a piece. Sean also told me that their special sale of calved and in calf heifers this Friday has already got 250 entries.

Tuesday in Nenagh also saw “a good firm trade” according to mart manager Michael Harty. “We had 350 cattle on offer, and that’s a good turn out for the day of the year,” he said. “There were plenty of men willing to buy and a general air of more confidence ringside.”

Possibly due to the second instalment of the single farm payment being paid this week? I enquired. “Very possibly,” he replied.

Nenagh saw a strong showing of cull cows with 70 present. Prices naturally varied according to quality with canners between 60 to 20 under the kilo and the good ones making up against €400 with the weight, Michael said.

While numbers of stock will decline in all marts in the run up to Christmas, as is traditional, “I expect there will be no shortage of buyers,” he concluded.

Also considering the positive effect of the single farm payment on the trade was auctioneer George Chandler when I asked him how the trade was in Kilkenny last Thursday.

“Confidence is very strong with the single farm payment a contributing factor,” he said. “It was a smaller sale, but all lots met an excellent trade especially the beef and forward store bullock and heifer,” George said.

With Continental bullocks of 645 kilos making €1,520 or €2.36 a kilo and others of 535 making €1,410 or €2.64 a kilo and with Aberdeen Angus heifers of 550 kilos making €1,190 or €2.16 a kilo and continentals making more “an excellent trade” was possibly a little modest.

Also improving were what George called the “quality” Friesian bullock. “They were possibly discounted more than they should have been up to this,” he said. Always a man to look long term he once again questioned the factories role in providing “clear information” on where beef might be in the New Year.

“At present their sitting on their hands as Christmas and the New Year approaches in relation to pricing, not a good thing,” he concluded.

Moving down the road to Carrick on Suir where Auctioneer Michael Cunningham oversaw a good size sale on Friday last.

“We had a good turn out considering we were almost in December,” he said. Although the yard was dominated by Friesian cattle, on the day there was still a good selection of Angus, Herefords and continentals present.

“We sold them all with the continentals making over €2 a kilo while some of the choicer Friesians made €420 with the weight,” Michael said. Also making around the €2 a kilo mark were some of the better cows. Discussing the trade with some of the customers present afterwards Michael felt that a lot of men currently buying felt that finished cattle “could very well be scarce in 2013”.

Moving next to Bandon and their sale on Monday where mart manager Tom McCarty said: “We had a good demand for cattle”. The sale had 150 bullocks, 120 dry cows and 70 heifers on offer.

“The trade was steady over all with a lot of good prices paid and plenty of farmer buyers,” he said.

I mentioned that cull cow numbers seemed to be increasing in some areas. He replied that at 120 there numbers this week were in line with the same week last year.

In relation to prices the numbers I have from the Bandon sheets show that the heavier better fleshed animal is remaining strong if not improving. Examples included Friesians of 915 and 760 kilos making €1,500 and €1,220 respectively. While a good example in the 600 kilo range was a Friesian of 610 kilos who made €790. As in Carrick on Suir the previous Friday Tom felt that fatteners were “reasonably confident in the beef trade” in the short term at least.

Kilmallock on Monday also saw a good turn out with Dennis Kirby commenting that their numbers “were good for December”. Demand for beef types, whether bullocks or heifers, “was very strong” Dennis said.

While one Limousine bullock of 835 kilos did make €2,300 or €1,475 with the weight, more typical prices for factory types included a Friesian of 775 kilos who made €1215, a Limousine of 760 kilos at €1870 and an Aberdeen Angus of 640 at €1,380. The buyers were mainly factory men although Dennis noted some of the heavier but not fully finished animals were bought by farmers for “short keep and quick turn around”. Trade for stores bullocks was equally strong, with prices depending, as always, on the weight and potential.

Examples included nine Friesian bullocks of 550 kilos who were pushed all the way to €940, five Limousines of 502kg who made €700 with the weight (more or less) or €1,200 and a two Herefords of 380 kilos who came in at €760. Heifers also saw a strong trade with plenty of buyers.

While cull cows were also strong with the better heavier factory ones heading for 500 with the weight “the lighter canner types made 50 to 60 under their weight”, Dennis said.

Turning to Tralee where their special show and sale on Monday saw outstanding prices paid for the large selection of top quality animals on offer. Their yard held 100 cows, 100 bullocks and 300 heifers.

Philip Healy commented that the heavy heifers in particular were “outstanding in class especially the ones over 600 kilos” — a fact reflected in the fact that the champion on the day was a 725 kilo Belgian Blue heifer owned by Padraig Martin of Dingle and made a cracking €2,500.

Pat Dowley of Ardfert Belgian scooped the reserve champion prize for his Belgian Blue heifer, also 725 kilos, with the hammer this time stopping at €2,050.

“It was a fine trade with plenty of buyers and a small number of men buying bigger numbers,” Philip said.

Examination of the prices in the price box above especially for the heifers gives a clear indication of the quality on show and the pedigree of the sale.

Continuing with the theme of better quality heavy cattle Sixmilebridge had their Christmas Fat stock show on Saturday last.

Again, as at Tralee above, it was a case of owners who take the meaning of quality beef to a different level with Sean Ryan describing some of the prices for the heavier animals as “absolutely super”.

The weanlings were also “very serious”, Sean said. “Farmers are still looking for good weanling stock and they competed very strongly with shippers on Saturday.”

Cow numbers were also considerable as they have been in many places this week as dairy men opt not to carry and feed those found in calf when scanned. “Anything not in calf is being sold possibly because of the fodder situation,” Sean commented.

Of concern, as has already been previously mentioned by George Chandler in Kilkenny, is the fact as Sean put it “factories are not moving on price”.

It is a constant wonder to me how, after generations, farmers still have to battle — individually, in the main — to secure a factory price; and why, with all the noise made by the farm organisations, that they haven’t lobbied the Government long before now for an independent price referee.

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