Friday 30 September 2016

Tillage: Strong prices present a big challenge for finishing sector

John Heney

Published 23/09/2015 | 02:30

A late cut of silage at the start of September bulked out.
A late cut of silage at the start of September bulked out.

With nearly half of my cattle now sold I am beginning to get a better picture of how this year will work out.

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Fat scores continue to be very satisfactory for grass finished cattle and carcase weights are holding up. Worryingly however, my records would suggest that overall kill-out percentages are somewhat back on cattle slaughtered say 20 years ago.

I can only presume that these reductions are caused by adjustments in fat trim etc and are balanced-out by a higher price per kilo when the carcase gets to the scales. But it would be nice to hear the farming representatives who negotiate with the processors on these adjustments confirm this.

Grades appear quite good this year, but it's far too early to draw conclusions as the plainer cattle tend to be left back and will therefore have a greater effect on later loads

With this year's improved factory prices cattle are obviously leaving a greater margin than in the past few years. However, for most finishers this is somewhat irrelevant as the real profit margin is what is left over when the cattle are replaced, minus of course the total cost of keeping them for the year.

While no one can deny that store producers need every cent they get for their store cattle, this year's strong trade does present a considerable challenge for the finishing sector.

I must confess that I am full of admiration for the people I see giving well over €1,000 for what I would consider to be quite modest sized store cattle. We know from bitter experience that there is absolutely no guarantee what the trade will be like when it comes to selling these cattle.

The cattle trade has always been like this, very volatile and completely unpredictable; it's definitely no place for the faint hearted or indeed those who feel that it provides a good opportunity to get rich quick.

On my farm, grass supply has improved somewhat. Getting some cattle away to the factory has certainly eased the situation and made it possible for me to rest some grazing fields. This has allowed a build up of fresh grass for the remaining cattle, some of whom I am afraid will need all the help they can get to finish properly.

I have also started buying in store cattle, which are well up in price compared to last year. These cattle require far less room than the larger beef cattle, but I have to be careful, as there is no point in letting these cattle lose condition before they go into the shed.

I got my late cut of silage done at the beginning of September and although it was quite a light crop it bulked-out better than I had expected and appears to be of good quality. But I am still concerned about having enough silage for the winter, as I feel that I may be cutting it a bit fine this year.

At this stage I am looking forward to the Ploughing and meeting up with the rest of the Farming Indo team and the many readers who come to visit the stand. It's really great to hear at first-hand what's happening on the ground.

John Heney is a beef farmer from Kilfeacle, Co Tipperary

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