Cattle are killing out so far at similar weights to 2011, but at higher grades
With only about half of my cattle sold it is still too early to say conclusively what the final outcome of this year's cattle sales will be.
Nonetheless, certain trends are now emerging and this is a good time to make a quick comparison against the first half of last year's kill.
After the first load or two it seemed that carcase weights were up on last year but now it appears that they are, in fact, very similar to last year's figures. There is an average of 1kg of carcase weight between the 2011 cattle and the 2012 cattle and fat scores show little variation either, showing a very slight decrease.
There is, however, one welcome improvement.
A drop of around 30pc in P grade numbers is most encouraging. My cattle this year did appear to be of better quality when they were bought in as stores and hopefully this improvement will continue right through to the last load. But as we all know, it's usually the plainer cattle which are left to the end and their eventual appearance will probably upset the figures somewhat.
Many of the stories currently doing the rounds suggest that cattle are not killing out that well as a result of the disastrous summer weather. As regards the price per kg I'm getting for my Friesians, so far it's averaging about 363c/kg, which of course is well below the current grid price for R=cattle, but this is to be expected from dairy breed stock.
I just got back the returns for some of the cattle that I treated with copper earlier in the year. I must say I am very relieved with their performance, which was very much in line with the kill-out from my other cattle sold so far. While these results are very welcome, they do raise some very serious and embarrassing questions for me. For example, why did I not recognise this problem earlier? And how much has it cost me in the meantime for not doing so? It also begs the question as to whether the rest of my cattle would have benefited from a copper supplement.
Many people will probably criticise me when I say that once my cattle become fit, I usually try to sell a load each week, irrespective of the prevailing price. They will argue that I would do far better if I sold hard and held out for a better price. Well this is one of the downsides of finishing beef on grass, as the most important requirements for finishing cattle on just grass alone is to have a very tightly controlled grass management system in place.
If I decided to delay selling cattle for a few weeks I would be forced to dip into the reserve of grass I was minding for the rest of my cattle. It would also mean that I would have to delay buying in stores as I simply won't have room for them. If, on the other hand, I continue doing as I am doing and sell the cattle as they become fit it allows me to replace them right away. As the lighter stores do not require as much grass as the larger beef animals, it is also easier to manage them on what at this time of the year is a rapidly decreasing supply of grass.
Speaking of store cattle, despite the tens of thousands of store cattle passing through our marts at this time of the year I am continually amazed at the apparent invisibility of my type of farming where official reports such as Food Harvest 2020 and our advisory services are concerned. It is patently obvious that a very high proportion of cattle currently passing through the marts are not suitable for fattening in sheds and will inevitably re-appear in the spring to be finished on grass.
As I finish this article, I have just arrived back from a most enjoyable day at the Ploughing Championships in New Ross -- enjoyable that is, if one chose to ignore the unbelievable traffic chaos which patrons had to endure. I fail to understand the mentality of the National Ploughing Association organisers who knowingly chose a site which would inevitably lead to people spending up to three hours travelling the first 10km into New Ross on their journeys home.
I strongly believe that an apology from the NPA to the people who supported the event and also to the Gardai who have to cope with the ensuing mess would not be out of place.
John Heney farms at Kilfeacle, Co Tipperary. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org