Martin Coughlan: Stress, dread and anxiety - a beef man's lot


The Bidding secrets from the ring, only the man in the box understands the signs. Something like Brexit. Photo Roger Jones.
The Bidding secrets from the ring, only the man in the box understands the signs. Something like Brexit. Photo Roger Jones.
Martin Coughlan

Martin Coughlan

Finishers with stock to sell must be struggling with the feeling of dread that comes when trying to do business in an over-supplied market, as the figures continue to illustrate.

Last week's kill was 37,828, 1,162 ahead of the previous week and a massive 3,762 up on the same week last year.

A prominent Midlands finisher said of the situation around the cattle game, "uncertainty is the word, and that uncertainty has been planted".

'Uncertainty' is one word but three others I keep hearing more and more are stress, dread and anxiety.

The stress of increasing feed bills, the dread of possibly losing a price because animals are in danger of going over-age, and the anxiety of 'the wait' - the wait for the call from the factory agent, the wait for confirmation that they are all dead and there are no issues, and finally the wait for the cheque, which of course will be eaten alive by outstanding bills once it's lodged.

If the cattle trade was a film it would be an Alfred Hitchcock production.

Prices for bullocks are static again this week at €3.75/kg, with heifers also unchanged at €3.85/kg.

Cow prices also remain largely stable, with R grades hovering around the €3.00/kg mark, with a shake of €3.05/kg also reported. O grades vary from €2.70-2.80/kg, while your better P on a stand-alone basis will get you around €2.60/kg, or possibly a little better.

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If you supply a more specialised cow factory I'm hearing more can be got, especially for those better Os.

Despite the continuing big kills the message from the processors is clearly, keep those cows rolling.

The message in relation to bulls is that with kills remaining high and with plenty of manufacturing beef coming from the cow side, the factories are in the box seat.

Quotes for bulls yesterday saw 5-10c/kg wiped off last week's prices. I was quoted €3.70-375/kg for U grades, with Rs back as low as €3.50-3.60/kg; your odd continental bull who might fall into an O grade was reported to be worth €3.40/kg, with his Friesian O grade counterpart €3.30/kg.

While there may be variations from one factory to another depending on the relationship between processor and seller, the bigger issue for many with bulls coming fit continues to be the problem of getting numbers killed.


Des Morrison, chairman of the ICMSA's livestock committee, reckons that numbers might actually tighten as the year goes on.

"Our information points to there being 50,000 less head going into the factories in 2019 and we think that fall will be primarily in heifers and steers," he says.

"We think that cow and bull numbers will remain constant, as will demand from export markets. We also have the Bord Bia data forecasting an overall drop in EU beef production, so we know that the supply-demand will be that bit better."

It's good to think there is a chance of things improving, but those possible better days seem very far away indeed.

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