Are we losing the future generation of beef breeders to dairying?


Pictured at the Show and Sale at Carnew Mart, Carnew, Co. Wicklow. Pictured is Myles Lambert auctioneer during the calf sale. Picture: Patrick Browne
Pictured at the Show and Sale at Carnew Mart, Carnew, Co. Wicklow. Pictured is Myles Lambert auctioneer during the calf sale. Picture: Patrick Browne
Martin Coughlan

Martin Coughlan

It is not the first time that auctioneer Jim Bushe of New Ross mart has warned about the state of suckler production in his part of the country.

It was last October that Jim raised genuine concerns as he believed the lack of good quality stock was starting to hurt marts in the south.

He cited the example of the buyer who changed his pattern of buying from Charolais to Aberdeen Angus because as he told Jim: "The Charolais stock are just not in it."

You could argue that you have to cut your cloth to suit your measure but for those men at the fattening end of the game, the lack of good conformation stock with potential is getting serious as the numbers of those involved at the suckling end decline.

Jim revisited this issue at the weekend as at his recent premium dairy sale he noted several traditional beef/suckler men were among the customers for in-calf heifers.

"We are losing the next generation of beef breeders in this area to milk and that's not a good thing. I said it last October and I'm saying it again now.

Studying the stock at Ballinakill Mart, Co Laois.PIcture: Alf Harvey.
Studying the stock at Ballinakill Mart, Co Laois.PIcture: Alf Harvey.

"Our ability to deliver numbers of quality beef either exported live or to the factories over the longer term is in trouble," commented Jim.

The problems being expressed by the likes of Jim Bushe are centred on a burgeoning dairy industry that continues to hoover up some of the next generation of potential quality beef breeders.

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Families that could trace their history back to the time of the fairs and the production and sale of quality cattle for the market are now milking cows. Generations of expertise are being swept away on that white tide. And so it should be.

Farmers are nothing if not practical and if you're running a business you go where the money is. And right now the money appears to be in dairying and if the land suits and there is access to the start-up cash, then for some it is an answer.

The fact that its expansion is unbalancing farming production appears to be going unnoticed at a political level.

Travelling north to towns such as Mohill in county Leitrim we find very similar concerns about the fall-off in the numbers of the next generation willing to go down the suckler road being expressed by local mart manager Stephen Hannon.

The issue in Leitrim is further complicated by concerns in local communities that the forestry section is expanding over land that once hosted cows.

No one can expect young people to go into an area of farming that offers little in the way of a guaranteed income which in essence has been the image portrayed by those seeking direct government aid for the sector at present.

Yet I know suckler farms that are profitable. Some are, granted on a larger scale of 60-70 cows but the families running them are making a good living.

And judging by recent prices for suckler stock at sales up in places in the north and west such as Mohill a good share of the handier sized suckler men with off farm employment are also managing to keep going.

It is interesting to hear some of the commentary regarding the proposed €200/hd payment as there wasn't a national outcry when the dairymen tapped the basic payment crisis reserve fund when milk prices fell a few years ago.

Why are suckler farmers periodically put through the ringer when they ask for development money?

1 new ross

Auctioneer Jim Bushe continues to marvel at the lure of the dairy sector. "Our Premier Dairy sale had a very big entry, a robust trade and a 100pc clearance."This, from a mart's perspective is about as good as it gets. Freshly calved heifers sold from €1,350-1,850/hd with top class, freshly calved pedigree heifers making from €1,800-2,250/hd, while non-pedigree in-calf heifers were very respectable with prices from €1,400-1,800/hd. Second and third calved cows sold from 1,400-1,920/hd.

2 mohill

Manager Stephen Hannon noted that despite recent problems with factory prices there was "very serious" interest among midland and eastern buyers for heavier bull weanlings at his sale. This resulted in prices for bulls from 400-500kg in general making from €2.55-2.89/kg, while occasionally the €3.00/kg barrier was broken as in the case of a 425kg Charolais who sold for €3.21/kg. Among the lighter 280-380kg bulls prices ranged up to €3.30/kg, while among the Belgian Blues the top was €3.60/kg.

3 balla

Weather aside trade here remained firm with the lighter store bullock from 300-400kg very much in demand with average prices hitting €2.66/kg. Top of the pile in this section was an April 2017-born 345kg Charolais who clicked €3.35/kg. Heavy cattle from 600-700kg were scarce and averaged €2.52/kg. The good show of heifers saw stock up to 400kg average €2.60/kg, with a March 2017-born Belgian Blue cross hitting the top spot on the price table at €3.13/kg. The 400-500kg heifers sold to a top of €3.03/kg, with the average price working out at €2.37/kg. Dry cows averaged €1.76/kg.

4 Tullow

Strong farmer interest in lighter stock drove the trade on well here. This resulted in lighter Herefords and Angus stock selling from €2.15/kg, with the best of the lighter continentals selling from €2.70-3.00/kg. A firm trade lifts all boats with tide here lifting lighter Friesian stores onto €1.90/kg and more on occasion. Beef and forward Friesian and Hereford types sold from €2.00/kg and upwards, while in the heifer ring the butcher trade saw Hereford and Angus sell from €2.00/kg, with continentals making in the region of €2.40/kg

5 mountbellew

A good trade with improving prices saw sample prices for bull weanlings range from €400-600/hd for Charolais from 190-270kg. In the heifer weanling section there was little between a 260kg Charolais at €670 and a 270kg Limousin at €665, while a 195kg Limousin cracked on well to €580 or €2.97/kg. In summary, bulls and heifers made from €510-810/hd with €/kg.

6 Corrin

A large sale of bullocks met an improved trade with lighter stores selling from €250-550/hd over the €/kg. The medium or 450-550kg bullock made from €260-605/hd over the weight, while demand for forward bullocks saw prices run from €300-705/hd over the €/kg. Beef types sold to €620/hd with the weight. Dry cows made from €500-1,350/hd with an 800kg Friesian setting that top price. Friesian bull calves made from €50-170/hd, while Hereford and Angus bulls made from €140-380/hd.

7 raphoe

There was a good show of stock here with buyers in general very keen. Bullocks sold from €2.10-2.70/kg, with bull weanlings making from €2.00-3.00/kg. Heifers sold from €2.20-2.80/kg, while cull cows sold from €600/hd for the plainer type.

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