Martin Coughlan: The vanity of an R-grade is still the holy grail for many
An O-minus bullock gets you a 24c/kg penalty on the grid, while an R-minus will get you the base - no penalties.
Michael Harty, manager of Roscrea and Nenagh marts, told me this by way of explaining why some of his Friesian customers are switching to better-conformation stock.
It's a change that many farmers contemplate at this time of the year, some because better feed conversation rates are more economical if you intend fattening over the winter months, others because it's an aspiration.
Whether we care to admit it or not, a field or shed full of R-grade continentals looks a lot better than the same number of P-grade Friesians.
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While the 'straight, square, well-made, solid O-grade Friesian, is well appreciated for his ability to fatten on a grass diet alone, for many the prestige - and let's be honest about it, the vanity - of owning R-grade or better continentals is the holy grail.
This autumn, with mart prices for those 'better' cattle regularly struggling to make €2/kg, that step up in 'quality' has come tantalisingly close for many.
For those with a view to the economic practicalities and a more readily marketable product, any move from Friesian that involves a step up in quality probably means switching to Hereford or Angus, with the R-grade Angus heifer or bullock appearing to be a preference for those buying at present.
That extra Angus bonus - be it 10-20c/kg, along with a 20c/kg quality assurance plus 6c/kg grid bonus - can see your R+ bullock rise to at least €3.81/kg on the grid.
Last week's Ringside figures show the better Angus or Hereford at 400-600kg averaged from €1.84-1.88/kg, while the overall average price of all breeds between these weights was 8-12c/kg below this at €1.76-1.77/kg.
Michael Harty's summary was: "Prices are getting stronger and a lot of it is down to the feedlots."
While this is no doubt true for in-spec stores and beef, anything out of spec is finding the going very tough.
All marts report a lack interest above a certain price in anything that is either over 30 months or out of spec.
Factoring in all the variables, overall mart price averages for bullocks slipped a shade last week.
In the know...
Sean Ryan reported better continental store bullocks as seeing good demand, with prices ranging from €1.80-2.20/kg.
Samples prices included six 451kg Limousins that sold for €2.22/kg, while four Limousins at 528kgs made €2.10/kg.
Angus types sold to €1.70/kg, while your better continental heifer made €2.10-2.15/kg.
The weanling trade saw bulls averaging €1.90-2.80/kg, with weanling heifers making €2.03-2.45/kg.
Cull cows sold to €1.70/kg, with Friesian types making 0.90c/kg to €1.43/kg.
Trade here was good all-round, with Thomas Potterton commenting: "Life has returned to the trade by degrees."
On the bullock side, stores under 500kg sold from €1.50-2.17/kg, with those from 500-600kg averaging €1.77/kg and making to a top of €2.06/kg. Bullocks over 600kg averaged €1.73/kg, which was back 7c/kg on the same sale last year at €1.80/kg. Good demand on the heifer side saw the 300-400kg animal average €1.73/kg to a top of €1.99/kg. The 400-500kg heifer saw prices peak in the shape of a 425kg Limousin at €2.17/kg.
"A big sale and a lively sale" was Jim Bushe's description.
Breaking down the store trade for bullocks, continentals sold from €360-615 with the €1/kg, while Hereford and Angus made €235-445 with the weight. Beef and forward stores sold from €500-820 over the €1/kg.
Continental store heifers made €320-600 over the €1/kg, with Hereford and Angus types making €200-400 over the €1/kg.
Prices for store cows saw poorer quality dipping to €200 under the €1/kg, while better feeders sold to €200 over the weight.
There was a reasonable entry of stock here, with the trade remaining firm for the quality in-spec animal, while anything plainer or out of spec was difficult.
Bulls over 600kg sold from €500-685 with the €1/kg, with beef bullocks making €500-605 over.
Store bullocks sold €350-630 over the weight, with store heifers making €350-605 with the €1/kg.
Beef heifers averaged €450-750 with the weight.
Trade was lively to improved here, with 300-400kg bullocks averaging €2.18/kg, while the 400-500kg bullock averaged €2.13/kg.
However, the top of market saw a 485kg Charolais make €2.42/kg.
500kg+ steers averaged €1.93/kg to a top of €2.32/kg.
On the heifer side those in the 400-500kg section averaged €2.06/kg, with heavier lots averaging €1.98/kg.
Trade for weanling bulls was helped by strong competition between farmers and exporters, resulting in light 200-350kg types averaging €2.36/kg, while the 350-450kg bull averaged €2.16/kg.
Demand for good store bullock was also strong here, but it was noticeable that the big entry of finished cattle - due to farmers failing to get them into the factories - saw prices under pressure.
A good example of this was two 710kg Belgian Blues that closed out at just €1.55/kg, while six 651kg Limousins saw the hammer fall at €1.60/kg. Two 580kg Herefords fared better, making €1.70/kg.
Among the heifers, three 476kg Limousins made €1.97/kg, with two 510kg Herefords averaging €1.68/kg.
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