On these pages from week to week I deal in figures. Figures derived from the actual sales sheets of many marts across the country.
They give a broad outline of the general direction of the trade, but when combined with conversations with mart managers, trends in relation to breeds and regional variations can be detected.
As we end the very difficult year for farming that was 2018, the mood music from the cattle sales rings over the last two weeks has been surprisingly positive.
Two weeks ago, the trade began to shift — and while there wasn’t any big bounce in prices, there was a noticeable increase in activity as extra buyers were reported by mart managers as being very much in evidence up and down the country. That trend continued last week, except this time, average prices on the bullock table rose by up to 8c/kg in some incidences.
Last week’s best performers were in the 400-499kg division, where the top quarter rose that 8c/kg and in doing so, helped the overall average price at this weight to better itself by 5c/kg or from €20-25/hd. Putting this into context, last week your better-made continental bullock between 400-499kg averaged €2.48/kg or from €992-1,238/hd — that’s exactly twice what you’d have to pay for the bottom-end Friesian at this weight.
Last week, your poor-conformation Friesian between 400-499kg sold for €1.24/kg. I mention this weight division and these prices deliberately because what is now weighing from 400-499kg could easily be in the 480-580/kg bracket come next May, and I wonder how their current respective prices will look then?
Moving up the weights, both the 500-599kg and the 600kg+ bullock rose by 3c/kg overall, although the biggest movers were among the poorer quality 600kg+ steers where averages rose €30/hd at 5c/kg.
Unfortunately, the seasonal goodwill did not extend to the heifer table where overall average prices fell by up to 6c/kg in some cases. The only positive figures on the heifer table concern the 350-399kg section, where from top to bottom prices rose by 3c/kg or roughly €10-12/hd. The trend, however, saw the pain increase with the weight.
Having registered a positive result among those lighter 350-399kg animals, the next section on the scales — the 400-499kg heifer — saw her overall average price fall by 2c/kg, which is €8-10/hd, while in the 500-599kg section, overall losses ran at 5c/kg or from €25-30/hd; above 600kg, prices fell by 6c/kg on average, €36/hd.
If ever there was a straight line that was predominantly going in the wrong direction, last week’s heifer price graph was it. I do think that the beef heifer trade at marts is due a shot in the arm to be honest. Maybe in the new year we might see some deciding to renew their relationships with those better-conformation ladies that are easy on the eye and can show a very nice turn of thrive on occasion.
For that to happen, however, there is one figure that needs to improve considerably, that figure is the factory price for beef. This time last year, factory heifer prices were running from €4.05-4.15/kg, with bullocks making from €3.95-4.00/kg as opposed to the current €3.85 and €3.75 respectively.
With the cost of meal, oil, fodder and machinery now considerably higher than this time last year, the requirement in short order is not a 20c/kg factory price rise but a 50c/kg increase.
Away from all the figures and conversations, honourable mention goes to auctioneer Eamonn Drake, who last week retired from the rostrum at Delvin Mart after 30 years of service to the farming community.
At the end of the day, while farming is about making a living, it is the stories we tell of the people who made that living possible that are often what we remember best.
John O’Hanlon reckoned there was anxiety among some customers. “We had a full yard of cattle, but I thought some fellas appeared extra anxious to get cattle bought” — music to the ears of those selling.
Prices on the day ranged from €2.02-2.56 in the 400-499kg bullock section, with the 500-599kg bullock averaging €2.03-2.60/kg. On the heifer side, the 300-400kg animal averaged €1.85/kg, and sold to a top of €2.18/kg. The 400-500kg heifer averaged €2.09/kg, with the top being €2.27/kg.
Thomas Potterton also reckoned numbers were good for the day of the year, with a good few present who were keen to buy. Top price among the lighter store bullocks went to a 315kg Belgian Blue who clicked €2.38/kg, but a base as low as €1.50/kg was paid for some poorer quality animals.
In the forward bullock section, averages ranged from €1.73-2.04/kg, with a batch of seven 530kg Friesians at €1.77/kg. The 550-600kg bullock made from €1.93-2.28/kg. A 365kg Angus set the bar at €2.09/kg in the 300-400kg heifer section.
The last sale of the year saw strong numbers with prices also relatively strong. Beef bullocks sold from €600-930/hd with the €1/kg, with stores making from €400-780 with the weight. Hereford and Angus made from €310-465 with the €1/kg, while Friesians sold from €100-260 with the €1/kg.
Heavier Friesians sold to a top of €500 with their weight. On the heifer side, beef heifers made from €500-800 with the €1/kg, while continental stores making from €380-670 over the €1/kg. Cull cows straight from the parlour sold from €250 under the €1/kg to €1/kg. Beef cows saw a top of €630 with the €1/kg.
Numbers here also stayed relatively strong for the day of the year, although the quality was “more variable”. Sample prices among the bullocks included two 877kg Charolais at €2.13/kg, while two 750kg Limousins clicked €2.23/kg.
On the store side, there were four 470kg Herefords who settled at exactly €2.00/kg, while four 485kg Charolais and three forward 547kg Limousins saw both lots hitting €2.57/kg. In the heifer ring, two 415kgs Simmentals at €2.46/kg and a 480kg Limousin at €2.54/kg were among the top performers.
Numbers here also remained strong last week. Demand, while consistent, was strongest for the better animal. Animals like those 460 and 490kg Charolais bullocks who sold for €2.57/kg and €2.43/kg. The better-conformation Angus bullock with factory bonus payment potential continues to have his fans, with a 630kg Angus X here making €2.17/kg.
Runner calves sold from €140-280/hd, with the stronger continental calf making from €320-765/hd. The top performers among the weanling bulls saw their prices range from €2.69-3.13/kg, with the top per kg price of €3.15/kg on the weanling heifer side going to a 265kg Charolais.
Numbers here were also better than seasonally expected. Best among the bullocks were two 635kg Simmentals at €1,100/hd that probably went for further feeding, while four 536kg Herefords at €1.84/kg are probably also now in new surroundings.
Costing €1.93/kg, two 407kg Herefords could very easily see themselves grazing very contently into the late summer of 2019. Sample prices on the heifer side saw four 635kg Limousins making €1.65/kg with six at 466kg doing €1.83/kg.
With the local meat plant at Carrigians offering attractive bonuses for in-spec continentals and Angus stock, the local mart trade is now reflecting this reality.
While bullocks hit a top of €2.40/kg and heifers €2.45/kg, those prices were predicated on the animals being either continental or Angus bred. If they weren’t, you could be looking at as low as €1.80/kg on the bullock side and €1.90/kg for an out-of-spec heifer. Cull cows ranged from €550-1,395/hd.