Monday 26 September 2016

Grading system is not fit for purpose

John Heney

Published 26/08/2015 | 02:30

Cattle farmers have become used to grading inconsistencies
Cattle farmers have become used to grading inconsistencies

The one thing which always gives me a very good indication as to how my farming year will eventually turn out, is the factory returns on the first load of cattle I sell.

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This year August 5 was 'D day' for me, so it was with more than a little bit of apprehension that I examined the kill sheet when it arrived the next day.

Leaving aside the recent disappointing reductions in factory prices the one thing which really stood out was the much improved fat scores.

Even though the date of sale was earlier than last year, a year which most people felt was a very good farming year, fat scores were well up with all but one achieving a 3= or more.

Three actually scored a 4- which I felt was very good for grass fed Friesian cattle.

In spite of the improved fat scores, carcase weights were about the same as my first load last year. However it's a bit too early yet to draw any conclusions.

As usual carcase quality grades were quite confusing with some plain cattle grading far better than expected, while some better looking cattle graded quite poorly.

Unfortunately these grading discrepancies are something which most cattle farmers have grown used to by now.

While these grading anomalies may on most occasions balance themselves out, they certainly do not encourage a huge amount of confidence amongst producers in the current 'mechanical grading' system.

I know of no other commercial sector which is obliged to indulge itself in such an act of blind faith.

The time has surely arrived for beef farmers to insist that the many farming bodies that profess to represent our interests use some of the monies collected in levies to employ independent professional graders to monitor and review the current grading system.

In relation to the improvement in fat score it was interesting to hear that performance levels have also been good in the dairy sector.

Feeding value

It would appear that the feeding value of all types of grass, both old pastures and reseeded ground is much improved this year.

There is some research available in the US on how weather conditions can affect grass quality and animal performance but I have yet to discover any comparable research done here. I feel it would be very interesting if it were.

I have always associated the topping of the grazing fields with broken weather and low-flying swallows and this summer was no different.

I can remember often hoping that these swallows might raise their flight path as a sign of some finer weather to come.

Topping, by its repetitive nature can be a very boring occupation; however this year with the installation of a new radio in my tractor I had a much improved choice of radio stations to indulge myself in.

Weary however of the relentless boom-boom, politicians' spin and clichéd veneer of some of our national stations, I decided to catch up on what was happening in my part of the world by tuning into our local community radio.

While the many voluntary presenters are the backbone of this service, providing farming, community, sporting, and nature programmes amongst others, it was great to see that our national Broadcasting Authority is now providing support for locally produced current affairs programmes.

These programmes give a real insight into the very busy lives and day to day concerns of people living in an Irish country town.

They also show how volunteerism continues to play such an important role in the well being of these rural towns.

I firmly believe that the welfare of these towns is vitally important as they perform a critically important economic and social role in our increasingly fragile rural infrastructure.

John Heney is a beef farmer from Kilfeacle, Co Tipperary

 jheney@ independent.ie

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