Buyers travelling far and near in search for cattle

“We had a full clearance with a lot of local buyers and a share of men from the midlands down to buy,” said Michael Scanlon of Kanturk mart this week.

His comment about buyers travelling long distances is echoed across the country, with northerners going south, westerners going east, and easterners going everywhere.

Michael said that the number of buyers for calves was such that, “I could nearly sell the calves with my eyes shut, there were that many men there for them.”

Plenty of buyers ensured a full clearance of the 1,200 head on offer.

With shippers present, calves ranged in price from €140-180 for the plainer lots, with those desired by farmers generally making €150-250.

As I scanned down through the lots and prices — a sample is reproduced here — it was noticeable that Kanturk appeared to be have a high proportion of Hereford type stock on Tuesday. Michael agreed that there has been a noticeable move back to the use of both the Angus and Hereford breeds in recent years in that part of the country, mainly due to easier calving.

Also on Tuesday, Nenagh mart had a bigger entry than previously, with 800 head. Among them were 25 pens of bullocks. Again, a complete clearance, with Michael Harty commenting, “Complete clearances with nothing going home is now becoming a feature of mart sales.”

With prices well maintained, he said that the improved weather had brought yet more and newer buyers ringside. Asked if there was any significant difference between this and previous weeks, he commented that many of the newer faces would be what he regarded as, “Real grass men.”

Kilmallock on Monday also saw another huge sale, and a full clearance of the 2,345 cattle and calves on offer. “Prices were maintained or improved in many cases,” according to office manager Margaret Noonan. Denis Kirby who kept a close eye on proceedings noted calf prices were “definitely up”, with buyers from the west returning home with calves of all types.

He said it has been noticeable in recent weeks that men were coming down from the west in increasing numbers and returning with handy trailer loads of calves of all breeds. Another feature, he said, was that buyers of traditional summer grazing stock were now “stepping back.” What did he mean? He said that summer grazers were buying a certain number of what they normally might buy in the line of bullocks, but were then making up their loads with either dry cows or smaller, lighter stock. I suggested that some buyers were now spreading the money. “Definitely, yes,” he said.

What's the trade like in the west? Tuam on Monday saw 650 animals on offer, with 350 being weanlings. Mart manager Marion Devane said, “It was a very good trade” and commented that spring had broken out all over.

She said, “There were a lot of buyers out in the brilliant sunshine, and the supply of store cattle just about satisfied demand.”

Tuam draws a lot of shippers, including some specialising in the Italian trade who, according to Marion, found the locals both willing and able to compete for those better type stock.

Not to be outdone, sellers of suckler cows with calves at foot found plenty of purchasers willing to pay excellent prices. Examples included a BBX with heifer calf at foot, €1,750; a LimX with bull calf at foot, €2,350; and a BBX with bull calf at foot, €2,300.

Swinging back south again, Dan McCarthy, manager of Kenmare mart, informs me that last Thursday's sale saw “Serious prices, with plenty of farmer and shipper buyers present”, for their 320 animals. He says that sourcing stock for customers isn’t simple. “There’s a very serious demand for stock, and numbers are tight.”

One of the things driving the trade in that part of the world, according to Dan, is the need for some farmers to buy cattle in order to have livestock units to qualify for disadvantaged area payments. “Particularly part time men”. The new rules state that to be eligible next year, you must qualify this year at either of 0.15 livestock units per hectare for stock kept for 12 months. or 0.3 units for animals kept for at least three months. Given the prices, and that some farmers are buying just to get disadvantaged payments, Dan says some of these buyers are uneasy about the economics of keeping what they buy now until the autumn.

They are probably voicing the hidden concerns of many.

However, in Kilkenny, auctioneer George Chandler tells me that last Thursday’s sale saw “Plenty of life in the trade and plenty of confidence.”

With a near full yard of 1,210 animals, George said, “The trade was similar to last week, with bullocks sold to a high of €3.58 a kilo, and suckler cows with calves at foot selling for €2,120.

Beef bullocks, however, were in short supply. This resulted in bullock prices lifting, as buyers battled it out.

Bull weanling prices were marginally reduced however, as there appeared to be less buyers about for them, with the plainer lots definitely easing. With more buyers ringside with more grass to graze, George doesn’t see the trade softening anytime soon.

Finally, in New Ross last Saturday, Richard Kirwan described the trade as “unbelievable”, with even poorer quality stock commanding big prices. Again it was a case of farmers looking to buy bullocks for grazing, but finding the supply of suitable animals diminished.

With the supply of summer grazers barely keeping up with demand in the marts, and the supply of factory stock limited, Winston Churchill, if he were alive might reflect, “Never in the history of the cattle trade have so many wanted the so few.”


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