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Sunday 18 November 2018

Bullock prices slide by up to €36/head as appetite for stock becomes 'measured'

Elphin Mart Annual Show & Sale of Weanling Bulls. Lot Number 52H 1st Prize Charolais. Weight 300kg. DOB 22/4/2018. Price €1240. Photo Brian Farrell
Elphin Mart Annual Show & Sale of Weanling Bulls. Lot Number 52H 1st Prize Charolais. Weight 300kg. DOB 22/4/2018. Price €1240. Photo Brian Farrell
Martin Coughlan

Martin Coughlan

Prices for both bullocks and heifers fell back across a majority of weight categories in a meaningful way for the first time in over a month.

After a month of little real variation, apart from a few cents per kg this way or that, last week saw average prices on the bullock side dip by between €12/hd (as in the case of the overall average price of the 600kg+) and €36/hd (in the case of the top quarter of the 400-499kg).

While it would be easy to say that added numbers depressed the trade, the reality is that it appears the appetite for stock has become more measured.

I commented last week that the arrival of the 70pc advance of the Single Farm Payment appeared to have had little impact on the trade, and for that week to be followed by a week when mart cattle prices actually dipped indicates that something other than added numbers is weighing on the trade.

Is it that with factory kill numbers averaging over 38,500 for the last eight weeks and factory prices having done well to hold at €3.75/kg for bullocks and €3.85/kg for heifers, those with cattle to buy are once again choosing to be cautious?

It is, of course.

When factory kill figures began to head seriously upwards two months ago, many of those I spoke to at that time were confident that if the kill stayed above 37,000hd for four to five weeks the back of this autumn’s numbers would surely be broken.

That hasn’t happened, leading to the expected rise in factory prices also not happening.

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Over the course of the last week I’ve spoken to a mix of finishers — some buy stores in the autumn and finish off grass the following year; others buy a heavier animal with a view to finishing from the shed.

The one thing they all had in common was their belief that the costs of production coupled with a bad beef price is killing their business.

For those without the security of a feedlot or contract production model, these are tough times.

With the cost of everything from feed to machinery maintenance appearing to be going ever upwards and the price of beef in the doldrums, buyers are cutting back in the one area they have control — at ringside.

Last week the entire bullock price table slid, with one exception — the better-quality 600kg+ animal who gained 1c/kg.

The only positive I can take out of it is that the overall average price of the 600kg+ bullock fell by just 2c/kg or €12/hd to sit on €1.95/kg or €1,170/hd.

That price, however, is 2c/kg better than it was this time last year, while factory beef was exactly where it is now.

It would be the end of the first week of December before factory prices eventually hit €4/kg for bullocks and heifers recovered to €4.10/kg.

Heifers prices fluctuated more than fell last week. Yes the 400-499kg heifer lost 4c/kg, €16-20hd, while the 500-599kg heifer eased back by 2c/kg — which is €10-12/hd; however, the 350-399kg section rose by €6-8/hd, with the 600kg+ heifer gaining 4c/kg or €24/hd.

While those heifer figures are generally more positive, the reality is that as long as factory prices stay where they are, those buying in the marts will have no choice other than to squeeze those selling.

DINGLE

Trade here was dominated by competition between farmers and feeders, with prices for both store bullocks and heifers settling in general between €1.80-1.90/kg. The appetite  among feeders for cull cows has yet to really ignite, with Nelius McAuliffe commenting that buyers for the present appeared only to be “picking at them”.

This left your 600kg Friesian cow operating between €800-830/hd, while feeding cows around the 500kg mark sold to €650/hd.

Listowel

Eighty kilometres north-west of Dingle the story at Listowel Mart was broadly similar. Here your Angus bullock was also making €1.80-1.90/kg. Manager Barney O’Connell commented that while stores of 420-430kg and upwards had recovered well, lighter weights were still difficult.

The general run of Friesians was from €1.40-1.80/kg, with Continental crosses pushing towards the €2/kg mark. The cull cow market saw prices range from €0.60-1.45/kg. Barney commented that the number of parlour cows being culled this autumn has so far been small.

Sixmilebridge

Here your Angus and Hereford bullock sold to a top of €1.91/kg, Continentals averaged €2.10-2.57/kg, with that top price going to a 545kg Charolais at €1,400. Averages for heifers ranged from €1.88-2.52/kg, with the top honours going to two 385kg Limousins that made €970/hd.

On the weanling side, bulls averaged €1.65/kg for Angus types to a top of €3.20/kg for Belgian Blues, with Sean Ryan noting that the majority of bulls were sold in the €2.50-2.60/kg range. Weanling heifers made €1.60-2.97/kg.

New Ross

Jim Bushe reported a big sale and trade good to firm. Beef and forward stores saw the better Angus-type bullock selling to a top of around €550 with the weight, with Jim commenting that strong heavy factory types made up to €1,000 with the weight.

The lighter Friesian store was an improving trade, with one batch of nice 422kg Friesians clicking €800/hd or €1.95/kg. Jim rated the store heifer trade as good, with both Hereford and Angus heifers of 450-460kg typically seeing €190-2.10/kg. The only fly in the ointment were those lighter 250-300kg non-Continental heifers that averaged around €1.50/kg and were a tricky sale.

Dowra

A big sale again, with prices continuing to remain steady across all classes. Weanling heifers under 300kg sold for €1.90-3.70/kg, with 300-400kg Heifers making €1.80-3.40/kg.

Heavier heifers sold for €1.80-2.60/kg. Weanling bulls under 300kg made €1.80-3.60/kg, with 300-400kgs making €1.70-3.20/kg, while heavier bulls sold to a top of €2.75/kg. Store bullocks under 500kg made €1.80-2.70/kg, with heavier types selling for €1.70-2.60/kg. Dry cows made €1.60-2.00/kg.

Ennis

Another big sale, with trade improved slightly for both heifers and bullocks, with prices varying to reflect quality across all rings. Picking some of the choicer prices among the bullocks, I noticed that quality really was the issue with a 780kg Charolais at €2.31/kg and a 710kg Limousin at €2.31/kg comparing very well to the €2.57/kg and €2.62/kg as paid for a 540kg Limousin and four 476kg Charolais respectively.

Best of the Hereford stores saw one at 415kg making €2.24/kg, while three 477kg Friesians at €1.60/kg might not have been the dearest. On the heifer side the best of the best saw a 395kg Limousin making €2.56/kg, while a single 550kg Charolais and four 527kg Limousins all hit €2.33/kg. Cull cows sold to a top of €2/kg.

Roscrea

This too was a big sale that saw a good clearance. Lots of note among the bullocks included four 600kg Charolais at €2.33/kg, with six weighing 448kg making €2.34/kg. Five 445kg Friesians at €1.54/kg might not have been overly dear, with six 550kg Angus at €1.81/kg being fairly typical for the breed, although lighter Angus did push onto €1.90/kg.

Also pushing up the average were four 330kg Limousins that sold for €2.41/kg. On the heifer side, samples included batches of 645kg and 627kg Charolais that sold for €1.27-1.29/kg ,while among the lighter Charolais were four at 390/kg that made €2.41/kg.

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