Monsoon brings autumn numbers forward a month

My sister recently returned from a brief holiday in Ghana in West Africa.

As we sat in the kitchen, the conversation turned to the weather, and she explained that Ghana has basically two seasons. “The rainy season and the dry season.”

Robert, my 10-year-old, on hearing this, pipes up, “That’s just like Ireland, Mary”. “How’s that, Robbie?” she asked. “Well, we’ve winter and then we have when it rains”.

It’s as good a definition of the weather in Ireland for 2012 as I’ve heard.

Although the rain has eased, and we got some sunny breaks this week, the cumulative effects of this summer’s “rainy season” are now becoming more obvious, as numbers at some of this week’s sales began to hit “back-end”/late autumn proportions.

Beginning in Bandon on Monday, where Tom McCarthy reported numbers were well up for the time of year. “It was a back-end type sale, with a tougher trade especially for the Friesians, some of them took a big hit.”

With plainer stock “under pressure” and cattle in general “looking a bit washed out”, and the week-on-week price pulls by the factories (“the last thing the long term trade needed”, Tom commented).

“Despite the British domestic market remaining unchanged, it’s not getting any simpler,” he said.

What he reckons will be very interesting to study — once the year winds up — will be the factory QPS figures for grades and fat scores achieved for the summer and autumn of 2012, compared to previous years.

Like all mart managers, Tom mingles with the crowds on mart day. A lot of farmers he felt were “wore out” from the constant struggle of trying to keep up. “They’re doing winter work and spring work, all in the name of trying to do summer work”.

Listening to him, there was a lot of admiration in those words.

A man not doing admiration was last Friday’s Carrick-on-Suir auctioneer, Co Kilkenny man Michael Cunningham.

“I would prefer not to comment on Tipperary’s performance” he said, when I asked about Kilkenny’s victory over Tipperary last Sunday. “What about Galway?” I asked. “We’re quietly confident“, came the reply.

He had considerably more to say concerning the cattle trade, however.

“The poor bullock was back, back a lot,” he said. “Quality ones were very good”.

The weanling trade in Carrick saw bull weanlings make up to €600 with the weight. “Lovely stock, and a good price,” he noted. Heifers, he said, were also “a very good trade”. Michael noted that farmer buyers were not interested in paying any more than “€200 with the weight for the plainer longer keep Friesian”. However, the same men could be tempted to “€400 with the weight for a better animal” of the same breed.

Moving to the west, and Sixmilebridge in Co Clare, where Co Galway native Sean Ryan said his trade on Saturday was “all right”. Again a case of “good cattle and bull weanlings” being “a fair good trade”, with lesser animals “harder sold”, he commented. That said, less than 10% of the stock went home unsold, he said. What were in plentiful supply were factory cattle and “three-quarter finished stock”, he said. There appeared to be no shortage of buyers for these types, with some men saying they were prepared to feed them on for a couple of months and see what happens.

As in Carrick-on-Suir the previous day, Sean reckoned that some farmers were waiting to see where factory prices settled before committing to buying replacements. “They were just a little cagey, I thought,” he said.

Corrin saw a bigger than normal sale for the time of the year on Tuesday last.

My sources said dry cows performed well, with the top price being €1,095 for an eight-year-old Friesian. Beef bullocks made up to €550 with the weight, with forward stores making from €150 to €580 with the weight.

Lighter stores came in at between €130 and €470 with the weight.

Butchers’ heifers were €200 to €544 with the weight, with their lighter sisters making from €100 to €400 with the weight.

It was reported as a good sale, again with a lot of farmers choosing to show under-finished stock rather than factory them or feed them on further.

At Kanturk on Tuesday, Michael Scanlon said, “It was a smaller show than the previous week”.

It was “a good yard of cattle”, he said.

The fall-off could probably be put down to the better weather on the day, and “men choosing to concentrate on the work at home”, he said. All told, prices were well maintained in what was in effect a “steady trade”.

Bullocks of 600kg and over made €500 to €600 with the weight, while 500 to 600 kilos ranged from €330 to €525 with the weight, and lighter ones from 210 to 430 with the weight.

The good show of cull cows — there were 50 on sale — made from €450 to €1075 per head.

The weanling trade, Michael said, held “steady”, while butchers heifers were a good trade.

Sellers, he felt, were happy, and this was reflected in the full clearance.

Returning to the theme of larger sales, Kilmallock on Monday saw 1,050 animals present, a 15% increase on the same week in 2011.

That said, cow numbers were the one category where numbers were not increased. Denis Kirby said they had — as did many marts this week — “a lot of 2010 cattle who were not fit to go to the factory” after the summer.

As in line with just about everywhere else, it was a case of “the good one making good money while the poorer Friesian made poorer money”, Denis said.

As August has progressed, Denis reckons that stock are “becoming easier sold”, because their owners decide to take the price rather than face home with them.

There were plenty of buyers, however, with farmers, feedlots and factories all vying for their preferences; this resulted in about a “99% clearance”.

He concluded that the vast majority “were there to be sold”. A change from the spring, when cattle would only be sold if they could be bought.

The previous day, Thursday saw a smaller sale in Kenmare, where mart manager Dan McCarthy said that he expected bigger numbers this day next week at their show and sale.

Returning to last Thursday, however, where Dan reckoned “the trade was tougher, stock struggled to make it into €2 a kilo”.

The majority of buyers were exporters, which caused Dan to reflect on the costs incurred when buying.

With standard mart charges increased over the last 12 months, and diesel spiralling ever upwards, it was very easy to see why he would say, “Feed and transport costs are hurting the trade, and they’re killing the smaller animal”.

On a more positive note, Dan reckons Cork are good enough to win the football this year.

Which will mean that Kerry people will have a shorter distance to travel if they want to visit Sam before trying to get him back in 2013!

Meanwhile on Monday in Thurles, the town that saw the creation of the GAA, Martin Ryan reported that the trade was “generally solid for continental types”, with “heifers absolutely solid”.

Young bulls for export were also “very good performers” he said.

On the negative side of the scales, “spring-born, light bucket-reared calves were back”, and Friesian bullocks were “struggling”, he said.

“Solid and good performers” are terms that could be equally used to describe Kilkenny’s performance on Sunday, while “struggling” would be mild in describing Tipperary. Martin is a very keen GAA man, and he was by his own admission, “More annoyed than disappointed”. “Disappointment is part of any sport”, he said, “but in this case, it was the manner of performance.”

That said, it didn’t lessen “the bragging rights of the Kilkenny lads in the canteen after the mart was over on Monday,” he said.

Finally, to Enniscorthy in Co Wexford, and their sale on Tuesday. Tom Harrington considered the trade “so-so”. Plainer cattle, he said, were “harder to sell”, with middling Friesians “difficult”. Tom said, “Light cattle including the black Friesian type heifer were a harder trade, as were Friesian bulls.” Tom considers that those lighter stock now coming on the market “will not get any easier to sell, in the short term at least”. Beef bullocks and beef heifers on the other hand were well maintained, but “not as it was”, Tom said. While a share of under-finished heavier cattle were present, the trade was such that there was a 100% clearance.

So the story of the past week has been one of increased numbers in the majority of sales yards across the country, as the traditional autumn increase in numbers has moved up about a month, due to the factors we are all too aware of — weather, grass supply and its diminished feed value, plus concerns over winter feed, its price and availability. The obvious question: if the autumn cattle are now coming on the market, what way will the supply to the marts be like come the first week on November?


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