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Sunday 4 December 2016

Hoping my bargain buys turn into a magnificent seven

John Heney

Published 05/10/2016 | 02:30

A general view of machinery at the 2016 National Ploughing Championships at Screggan, Tullamore, Co. Offaly. Photo: Damien Eagers
A general view of machinery at the 2016 National Ploughing Championships at Screggan, Tullamore, Co. Offaly. Photo: Damien Eagers

As memories of the Ploughing Championships fade, it is time to get back to the everyday job of managing and running my farm.

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However, this year I did find the Ploughing Championship really enjoyable; meeting up with so many old friends and acquaintances.

While perhaps only a small percentage of the huge array of farm machines and 4X4s on display were aimed at cattle farmers, I couldn't but think of something a very wise cattle man - long departed, sadly - used to remark, "aren't they great little cattle the way they keep everybody going."

I found many of the stands very interesting; displaying new ways to overcome the many ordinary difficulties and hardships we face every day. However, the one stand which really stood out for me was the Department of Agriculture Stand where I listened with great interest to a presentation by John Muldowney entitled 'Agriculture in a Changing Climate'.

What really aroused my interest in the subject of climate change was the amazing 'thrive' which cattle achieved this summer resulting from phenomenal grass growth. If I wasn't already sure about climate change, this summer's chequered weather patterns of numerous short periods of sunny weather, interspersed with brief periods of mild rain, has certainly raised my interest in the subject.

Don't get me wrong, I did enjoyed the extra heat and the warm moist weather was perfect for growth, but it does mark a huge shift away from the usual summer pattern of extended periods of either wet or fine weather to which we have become all too accustomed.

In spite of some dissenting political voices emanating from the southwest I feel it behoves us all to start paying far more attention to what we should be doing to alleviate the changing situation as well as preparing our enterprises for the consequences of what else may be coming down the line.

Back to my farm and cattle going to the factory continue to score well in the condition stakes (please excuse the pun). As would be expected carcase weight and confirmation are beginning to slide somewhat which, combined with an ongoing reduction in factory prices, means that margins are tightening.

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My own records would indicate that we are currently receiving about 15c/kg less than we were being paid 12 months ago. In hindsight, it is difficult to understand the huge confidence which existed in the store trade last autumn, the factory prices which we are currently receiving certainly shows how false that trade was.

Replacement stock I continue to buy in replacement store cattle and generally I am very pleased with what I have bought; however there is always an exception.

Recently I came across a group of some very poor store cattle at a local mart.

Initially I dismissed them as being far too plain but when they came into the ring and were not selling that well I just could not resist the temptation of buying a 'bargain'.

Within a few moments I was the 'proud' owner of seven very poor, very plain Friesian cattle weighing 365kg

Now each morning when I check my cattle I always take a very close look at my 'Magnificent Seven'.

At the moment thanks to the grass bank I have managed to build up over the last few weeks they are living in the lap of luxury. Now it is probably just wishful thinking on my part but they appear to be improving every day. Even so, it will take a long time and some very good care over the winter to get them anyway near the condition of the rest of my stores.

One positive side it has made me extra vigilant to avoid buying any more very plain cattle irrespective of prices (seven of these type of cattle is more than enough) and of course, the reduced investment involved has allowed me spend a bit more money buying heavier stores.

As I have already mentioned I now have a good supply of grass built up and if all goes well the store bullocks which I have bought should put on a nice bit of weight before housing which will be very helpful on turn-out.

Finally, I must confess to being extremely perturbed by a recent suggestion to impose a statutory levy on all farm 'Basic Payments' to fund farming organisations.

While a broader base of potential recipients may find such a proposal attractive, and indeed some strong arguments can be made in support of such a proposal, experience suggests that having large sums of money sloshing around in the bank accounts of any organisation can lead to very undesirable consequences.

John Heney is a beef farmer from Kilfeakle, Co Tipperary.

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