Farm Ireland

Wednesday 21 March 2018

2013 cattle kill out 30kg lighter but this year's stores look good

John Heney

There really is no other business so totally dominated by the weather and the seasons as farming. As the end of 2013 approaches, it is interesting to look back at what nature and economic forces bestowed on us over the last twelve months. We can learn some lessons from our experiences.

The year began with fairly benign weather and little did we realise what lay in store. March arrived and so began a long wait for grass to start growing. I waited in vain until the end of March, then April and then May. In the end it was well into June before any real growth started. As my first cut silage was also very light, I certainly wasn't out of the woods even at that stage.

The dry spell in late summer hit me hard as my farm needs plenty of moisture to grow sufficient grass. The great autumn weather which followed was very welcome and, while it ensured a good second cut of silage, it could never compensate for the loss of weight gain caused by the poor spring.

The early 'grass famine' was bound to leave a legacy. So it came as no surprise to me that my cattle's kill-out weights were disappointing. My fears are being realised, with weight gain down by at least 30kg this year. I'm afraid to work out the financial loss that entails. Yet, despite these very disappointing weight gains, I think I am very lucky to have sold my cattle at all. Farming has always been a tough business and it never ceases to throw up new challenges.


I have just finished buying in store cattle for this year. Taking full advantage of the current fine spell, I have them cleaning off the last of the autumn grass but it won't be long now before they are housed. I must say that I am very pleased with the bought-in stores – they are slightly heavier and stronger than last year's.

What should prove very interesting this year is the fact they include a small number of coloured cattle; three Herefords, two Charolais, (see photo), five Angus and a single Limousin. It will be intriguing to see how these do in comparison to the bigger Friesian stores.

In terms of economic challenges for farmers in 2013, huge feed bills and CAP reform were the dominant topics. How CAP reform will affect ordinary farmers will soon become clear as Minister Coveney has promised us a decision by mid-December at the latest.

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Unfortunately the future doesn't look great for the many thousands of cattle farmers who rely on the single farm payment to subsidise their production costs. I was surprised to see that the value of our beef exports once again topped the agricultural exports league table in 2012. These figures appear to suggest our beef industry is in rude good health.

It begs the question as to why incomes in the cattle sectors remain so unsustainably low; particularly when we take into consideration the vast amount of 'expert advice' we get on how to be "good farmers".

Speaking of advice, anybody visiting a mart this autumn could not but notice the sharp fall in the number of young bulls being sold. It seems the bright idea of widespread production of young bull beef has bitten the dust. The reason I bring this up is because I recently attended an agriculture and food conference on the future of Irish farming. It was an excellent conference with many interesting speakers, including our minister.

Unfortunately, as a producer of wholly grass-fed beef, sitting at that meeting I must admit to a feeling of invisibility and perhaps even redundancy. In what appeared to be little more than an afterthought, a very small amount of time was spent at the conference dealing with the beef sector. The underlying suggestion appeared to be that the future of the beef sector now lies in providing extra land for the expansion of dairying.

For the rest of the beef sector, it appears that incomes don't matter at all; it's all about increasing output by establishing more intensive high cost units, irrespective of the current low income problems associated with these systems.

2013 is coming to an end and, as always, we should look forward with optimism to the new year. There is an old saying: "Hope springs eternal".

Happy Christmas everyone.

John Heney farms at Kilfeacle, Co Tipperary. Email:

Irish Independent