It's business as usual at the marts but bullock prices take a hiding

This lot of five March 2018 Hereford heifers, weighing an average of 499kg, sold for €620 apiece. Photo: Roger Jones
This lot of five March 2018 Hereford heifers, weighing an average of 499kg, sold for €620 apiece. Photo: Roger Jones
Martin Coughlan

Martin Coughlan

'Cattle are coming earlier and are 50kgs heavier than this time last year," said Michael Harty of Central Auctions in Birr, Roscrea and Nenagh. Those are the positives at present.

On the negative side, prices for both bullocks and heifers continue to slide - although many categories continue to outperform market expectations.

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Despite factory protests and poor weather, especially in the west, leading some sellers to move stock earlier than normal, business at marts continues to get done.

However, as several mart managers and observers pointed out to me, "it's business at a price".

Hereford Bull. Weight 940Kg. BOB 27/01/15.
Hereford Bull. Weight 940Kg. BOB 27/01/15.

Average prices for bullocks from 500-599kg are running 17c/kg or €85-101/hd behind their average from this time last year, with the 600kg+ bullock 22c/kg or €132/hd back on 2018.

The lighter bullock is performing well when you consider that factory quotes for bullocks are around 45c/kg less than 12 months ago.

4 off Friesian Bullocks. Weight 426Kg. DOB 31/01/18. Sold for €535. Photo Roger Jones.
4 off Friesian Bullocks. Weight 426Kg. DOB 31/01/18. Sold for €535. Photo Roger Jones.

That's a whopping €162/hd less in the pockets of those who drive the mart trade.

Yet at an average last week of €1.84/kg for the 300-399kg bullock, this weight division is running 11c/kg ahead of this time last year. The 400-499/kg bullock averaged €1.80/kg last week, which is just slightly better than his average for the first week of September 2018.

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This anomaly in prices extends to the heifers, although it is limited to just the 350-399kg section.

Last week's figures break down as follows:

A pair of April 2017 Aberdeen Angus bullocks weighing an average of 579kg sold €955 apiece
A pair of April 2017 Aberdeen Angus bullocks weighing an average of 579kg sold €955 apiece

Remember, factory quotes for heifers this time last year ran from €3.95-4.00/kg, or 40-45c/kg less than they are today.

Yet the 350-399kg heifer at an average price of €1.85/kg last week is 13c/kg above where she was in September 2018.

Belgian Blue Bull. Weight 892Kg. DOB 01/02/13. Sold for €1580
Belgian Blue Bull. Weight 892Kg. DOB 01/02/13. Sold for €1580

The remaining weight divisions do, however, fall in line to some degree with where current factory prices are.

The forward 500-599kg animal is 19c/kg or €95-114/hd less than this time last year, with the 600kg+ heifer back 20c/kg.

Friesian Bull.Weight 922Kg,DOB 30/01/16. Sold for €1250.
Friesian Bull.Weight 922Kg,DOB 30/01/16. Sold for €1250.

Meanwhile, the 400-499kg heifer is back 13c/kg at €1.85/kg compared to September 2018.

The consensus among marts is that demand for lighter stock is being driven by a belief that as these animals are longer keep and may therefore be better insulated from the negative effects of the UK's imminent exit from the EU.

Charolais Bull. Weight 998Kg. DOB 10/07/09. Sold for €1240. Photo Roger Jones.
Charolais Bull. Weight 998Kg. DOB 10/07/09. Sold for €1240. Photo Roger Jones.

Weanling trade

But can you buy gold too dear?

The weanling trade also bucked all the negativity around the beef prices at present, with both bulls and heifers showing some tidy gains across all weight divisions.

Yet again the average prices for lighter stock are operating well above the same figures for this time last year.

The 100-299kg bull at an average price €2.32/kg last week is operating 33c/kg above where he was 12 months ago.

The 300-399kg bull also at an average of €2.32/kg is 25c/kg stronger than this time last year, while the 600kg+ animal at an average of €2.11/kg is actually 6c/kg less.

Having examined the figures, I am reminded of the words of General Ferdinand Foch, supreme allied commander in the First World War.

"My centre is giving way, my right is retreating, situation excellent, I attack."


In the know...

1. Roscrea

Michael Harty agrees that prices have come back but also contended that they are better than might have been expected.

He cited five 575kg Charolais bullocks that sold for €1,300.

In general, your better 500-550kg bullock made around the €700 with the weight mark. Friesian bulls from 450-460kg were a different proposition, selling at best from €660-680/hd. The 450kg continental stores operated around the €2/kg mark.

2. Baltinglass

Forward bullocks struggled to get much above the €2/kg mark here, with samples seeing a 585kg Charolais at €1,140, a 545kg Charolais at €1,090 and a 561kg Charolais at €1,130. Hereford bullocks sold from €1.60-1.90/kg, with better Friesians making from €1.30-1.65kg.

Lighter 330-350kg Friesian types struggled on occasion to breach the €1/kg mark.

3. Blessington

Trade here for bullocks over 500kg was described as steady, with prices ranging from €500-700 over the €1/kg and beef bullocks making from €540-760 with the weight.

Store bullocks of 400-500kg made €400-560 with the weight, with lighter lots selling to a top of €435 with €1/kg.

Store and beef heifers made from €480-660 with €1/kg, with store heifers making €400-580/hd with €1/kg. Beef cows sold for €340-635 with the weight, while feeding cows made €100-320/hd with the €1/kg.

4. Ballinakill

Here as elsewhere there was a good show of store bullocks with lighter stores selling for €2.05-2.55/kg. The more forward store made €1.95-2.40/kg, while heavy bullocks ranged from €1.85/kg to €2.25/kg.

Beef heifers sold for €1.90-2.30/kg, with stores making from €2.00-2.40/kg. Weanling heifers ranged from €2.00-2.55/kg, with weanling bulls making €1.80-2.50/kg. Dry cows sold for €1.10-1.80/kg.

5. Tullow

Prices for quality continental bullocks remained steady, with beef and forward types making €1.95-2.20/kg, while the better lighter store sold for €2.10-2.40/kg.

Better Hereford and Angus bullocks sold for €1.80/kg, while your better Friesian pushed on from €1.70/kg. Beef and forward heifers sold for €1.90-2.15/kg, with the better continental store heifer selling for €2.10-2.45/kg. Hereford and Angus heifers sold from a base of €1.90/kg. Friesian cull cows sold from a base of €100/hd with the weight, while continentals made €300-600/hd over the €1/kg.

6. Dowra

Patsy Smith commented that the lack of clear farm leadership among those in the beef business is hurting the mart trade, saying: "Farmers are crying out for direction and it's reflected in the mart trade with prices easing back."

The best of the 400-500kg store bullocks sold from €2.00-2.20/kg, with the better 500-600kg bullocks also operating from €2.00-2.20/kg. The weanling trade saw the 260-320kg bull a better proposition, with prices for the good ones hitting €2.70/kg, while lighter lots saw a 205kg Charolais hit €650, €3.17/kg.

7. Castleisland

Despite recent downpours and a subsequent increase in numbers coming earlier than might have been expected, prices here for the good 400-500kg store bullock hold around the €2.00-2.20/kg mark. Lighter lots pushed on close to €2.40/kg.

On the heifer side the top of the pile saw two 306kg Limousin making €2.30/kg, with prices for heavier stock gradually sliding back to around the €2/kg mark. The cull cow trade saw the better beef types hit €1.81/kg, with the best of the Friesians doing €1.57/kg.

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