Looks aren't everything - how to spot a bargain
Six weeks ago, Maurice Brosnan of Gortatlea Mart was calming concerns over potential fodder shortages in these pages, saying: "Farmers were putting cattle into sheds on September 1 last year - this year we have six weeks grass in front of us."
While Sean Ryan of Sixmilebridge Mart reckoned all bullocks were up €40-50/hd two weeks ago, Maurice saw that trend continuing among the lighter stores last week, saying: "Lighter bullocks are up €100/hd in two weeks but I still think there is value to be had among those lighter, plainer types."
I know some men who would agree and I know others who wouldn't touch an O or P grade Friesian or Angus with a barge pole.
Last week's Ringside average price for that lighter 300-399kg Friesian was €1.30/kg, while the Angus bullock at this weight averaged €1.76/kg.
Prices for the poorest of those Friesians averaged out at €1.05/kg, with the worst of the Anguses making €1.48/kg.
I once heard an accomplished cattle dealer trying to gauge whether a poor-looking batch of Friesians at a certain mart were the victims of poor management coupled with the effects of a wet day, or whether somewhere in their DNA was a good square Friesian waiting to get out.
He classified them not as poor, not as average… no, they were, he declared, a subdivision of all weights and classes, "the tricky bullock".
He was citing the essence of a good cattle man: the ability to spot potential in something that looks ordinary.
Any idiot can pick a good bullock or a bad one; the real trick is to be able to spot the animal that will thrive in your farming system at a good price - the animal that just doesn't attract the attention it should on the day of a sale.
Sometimes those selling make obvious mistakes that can take from an animal's potential. If you've ever watched a professional cattle dealer working on a sale outside of the ring, his cardinal rule is, present well.
One of the biggest turn-offs for those buying is the animal whose tail has never been clipped and is weighted with dried dung. That speaks of a poor dosing programme and has a tendency to make the animals appear older than they are.
Another one is check the ages on the cards, while stacking cattle by size and conformation is always to be advised: that late calf you held back 18 months ago, now mixed with your younger stock of similar size means buyers begin to question the age of the entire batch.
I've said it before: it should be a mart regulation that all stock presented for sale show the breed of the dame on the board.
Then those whose money drives the mart trade can say, "now we have all the information we need to make informed investment decisions".
Granted, some of the breed societies probably won't like it, but buyers need to have some security as far as the potential of what they are buying is concerned.
And while what Maurice Brosnan says in relation to value among those poorer-conformation lighter animals may be right, we are rapidly getting to the situation in relation to both Herefords and Angus where their potential is often just too "tricky" to call.
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