Some signs of factory cattle scarcity in marts

After last weeks surge in numbers, the supply of stock presented at marts reduced this week.

While it is not easy to divine one single factor as the cause, it is noticeable that the single biggest reduction occurred in the heavier or “factory cattle” section.

That reduction — which is across all classes — has however seen prices rise, as the market place obeys the simple laws of supply and demand.

Beginning with the trade in Nenagh on Tuesday, where Michael Harty said, “Numbers were smaller but prices have really hardened”.

There was, he said “a great trade for the nicer animal” although he thought that farmers were, “going off the plainer Friesian”. In relation to numbers, Michael said they had “a lot of store stock, but not many heavy cattle”.

Commenting further on the cooling in the demand for Friesians, he wondered if it was the result of men who had recently begun to kill Friesian types beginning to see weights and grade conformation suffer because of the very bad summer.

He conjectured that because the year was so bad for thrive, many of those more ordinary cattle never got the chance to put on that bit of extra condition that would help lift them up the QPS pricing scale.

This, he said, had led some in Nenagh to look again at buying “a little bit better”.

Tuesday also saw “a good sale” at Corrin Mart in Cork, with mart manager Sean Leahy offering a different perspective on the mart trade for the lesser quality animals. Sean reckons that the men selling those plainer Friesians “are getting adjusted to the price, and they’re taking it”.

“A couple of weeks ago,” he said, “Cattle of 380 kilos and under, especially heifers, were not very popular. Today (Tuesday), lads might have been looking to next year’s grass, and they thought them not to bad”.

The result saw the better animal improve markedly while the mid-range Hereford or Angus animal of 430 kilos or so made €1.85 a kilo.

“The man selling did well enough, while the man buying was also happy.”

From this writer’s perspective, I think I’m safe enough in saying that in the mart trade, any day that you clear the yard, and both sellers and buyers go home happy — that’s a good day.

Moving across the border to Kerry and last Thursday’s sale in Listowel, Barney O’Connell tells me they had a very big turn out of cull cows, with 137 present, while bullock and heifer numbers were “small”. Although the Friesian trade was “quieter”, Barney reckons that both the trade for and the number of Friesian bullocks will improve, as the autumn buyers begin appearing.

Improved or holding their own were the heavier stock, with most making €2 a kilo or a shade better.

The weanling trade was also “okay”, although Barney noted, “Take the shippers out of the equation, and there weren’t that many farmer buyers”.

Returning to this week, and Bandon on Monday, Tom McCarthy considered the trade for heavy cattle “firm”, but “tougher” for the plain ones.

He commented that “the 2011 Friesian is taking a beating”, as are any of the plainer 2012-born weanlings.

Beatings, in the GAA sense, that is, Donegal’s victory last Sunday in the All-Ireland semi- final, drew a very dignified response. “They were the better team, plain and simple. Their pace and fitness was amazing.”

Returning to the trade, he told me they had 220 calves on offer, with prices for Friesian bulls ranging from €80 to €200, while Hr/AA bulls came in at between €150 and €320 a head.

Continental bulls made up to €420, while the heifers pushed €380, with Hr/AA heifers coming in at €140 to €340 each.

Monday in Kilmallock saw another big sale, one of the few marts to report a continuation of the previous week’s high turn out.

Denis Kirby told me that bullocks were up a shade “maybe €10 to €20”.

Heifers, however, rose sharply, with Denis saying “they were €50 stronger”.

The attendance saw significant numbers bought by individuals — with one man taking home 52 Friesian stores, while a buyer from up north loaded up 43 heavier animals.

But Denis commented, “It was the lads with the jeeps and boxes who buy the four or five that really underpinned the prices”.

With a big mart attendance, and a real want among buyers, the auctioneers moved rapidly in taking bids.

“It was a sale that they found easier to work” he said.

Another mart with an extra large attendance was that held in Carlow on Monday.

Jimmy Walsh said it was a “shade smaller” than the previous week.

Both things he put down to the weather, to some degree . “We had an awful night of rain Sunday night, and Monday morning wasn’t a whole lot better” he said.

“It was a good size sale, although maybe a little smaller than expected,” he said. Definitely reduced in number were the bigger, heavier factory cattle — in fact, there were none present.

“There was no particular reason” Jimmy commented. That said, bringing out bullocks you’ve possibly put a lot of time and feeding into on a wet day, and possibly having them not look good because of the weather, was probably part of the reason. Or maybe they aren’t there, anyway.

I know which one the factory men hope it was!

While the heifer “had a good kick in her”, Jimmy reckoned the trade overall “slipped a bit”. As a result, a small number of animals went home unsold.

With 600 cattle on offer in Kilkenny last Thursday, George Chandler noted the sale was “a little smaller” than previously.

Trade however was “steady” for all stock, despite customers not being as plentiful as usual.

That said, heavier cattle met a similar trade to the previous week, although the lighter store animal was easier by €10 to €20 a head, he concluded.

Easier in numbers also was Tuam on Monday, with only 180 animals present.

Mart manager Marion Devane said, “ It wasn’t a big turn out, but we achieved a full clearance. We had a full house of buyers, and there wasn’t any room left for either standing or sitting. They came to buy, look and compare notes,” she said.

Trade overall was solid. It was one of those sales where everyone decides for one reason or another to turn up, maybe due to the weather or to see what’s going on or just to mingle, sit have a cup of tea and talk.

In this “annus horribilis”, a mart is a good a place as any to escape to on a wet Monday.

Trade at Sixmilebridge in Co Clare was marked on Saturday by the continuation of the strong showing of heavier cattle, a trend not mirrored in any of the other sales yards I contacted.

Sean Ryan said, “It was a reasonably good trade all round”. Demand, he said, ran through all classes, “from beef to stores to weanlings”. Sean said, “We had more men to buy than previously”.

Perhaps a reflection of returning confidence?

With a gap of about 80 cent between farm gate prices here and the UK, it must surely mean that our single biggest beef export customer is facing very short supply.

There are two ways this price gap can be closed.

Either the British price comes down, or our price goes up. It might be an idea for some people to ask Board Bia what they think should happen. And I’m not buying their old argument, “We don’t buy cattle, we only promote beef.”


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