Mart prices reflect fall-off in quality
Barney O'Connell of Listowel and George Candler of Kilkenny both mention a drop in the quality of stock coming under their hammers in my mini mart reports this week.
Previously, both Patsy Smith of Dowra and John O'Hanlon from Ballymahon also commented on what they saw as a fall-off in quality. The most obvious points are that the four gentlemen come from very different parts of the country and each has identified a similar issue.
In my discussions with Mr Smith and Mr O'Hanlon, who are based in the north and north-west, the issue they see is suckler farmers choosing to put more of their cows to easier calving bulls, resulting in a fall-off in conformation. Where you might have been getting a good proportion of Us, you're now getting Rs.
When you're trying to juggle a job, a farm and family commitments, this generation are making the choices that allow their lives to function as they see best.
Down in Kerry and Kilkenny, Mr O'Connell and Mr Chandler claim they are seeing are an awful lot of very poor conformation Friesian, Hereford and Angus cross animals coming through the system as the dairy sector mushrooms.
While the factory price governs an awful lot in relation to how mart prices fluctuate, other factors do also effect the trade: the weather, grass growth, the time of year and the quality of the stock - all these factors, and more, go into the mix to make the market.
I mention all of this because I did a quick comparison between prices for Continental, Hereford/Angus and Friesian bullocks between now and his time last year, just to see if any of what has been mentioned above is evident in the figures that appear here every week. The answer is, more work is required; but it does appear that the biggest losers from this time last year are in the figures for Continentals and Friesians, with quality lots suffering disproportionately.
Ironically, the biggest drop-off in price year-on-year comes among your lesser conformation 600kg+ Continental, back from €2.14/kg this time last year to €1.80/kg last week - a drop of 34c/kg. That's a €204/hd minimum change.
The next biggest loser at this weight are the better conformation Continentals, back from €2.53/kg in early June 2018 to €2.32/kg last week - a 21c/kg loss or €120/hd. In the 500-599kg section, the biggest loser is the less good Friesian, as he drops 26c/kg (€130-156/hd) from this time last year. Close on his heels comes the better Continental, back 25c/kg.
Moving to the 400-499kg section, the better Hereford/Angus bullock comes out worst as he is 20c/kg back on last year. He is followed by the top and bottom quarter returns for the Continental, both of whom are 19c/kg worse off than this time last year. In the 300-399kg division, it's the better Friesian that has been hardest hit. He is back 27c/kg, or from €81-108/hd, on 2018. He is followed at this weight by the better Angus/Hereford bullock, who last week averaged 17c/kg less than in early June 2018.
Whether you blame poorer breeding practices or poorer factory prices, the above figures do offer compelling evidence that quality is suffering when it comes to the prices being paid in marts at present.
In the know...
Numbers here were described by Sean Ryan as "small but reasonable". Bullocks sold from €2.16-2.30/kg with a smaller showing of heifers averaging from €2.16-2.23/kg. On the weanling side, typical Continental bulls were starting around the €2.25/kg mark with prices topping out at €3.00/kg for Belgian Blues. Sean noted that while there was a good demand throughout the sale, it seemed to be "at a price". "There's uncertainty out there. A real fear of where factories might go with the price," he commented.
Thomas Potterton reported a strong entry of stock with a good trade developing across all classes. Bullocks under 500kg averaged from €1.90-2.50/kg with that top draw going to a 495kg Charolais at €1,235. The 500kg+ bullocks ranged from €1.53-2.29/kg. Heavy 650-750kg bullocks saw action from €2.00-2.15/kg, with Thomas noting a number were possibly bought for further feeding. On the heifer side, weights from €300-400kg averaged €2.09-2.87/kg, with the 500kg+ heifer making from €1.81-2.33/kg. Dry cows sold from 94c/kg to €2.17/kg.
Barney O'Connell rated his trade "quieter" with fewer numbers and bullocks in particular smaller. Also of issue was possibly the quality on show. "Quality was maybe not what it was," Barney commented. Prices for cull cows averaged around the €1/kg mark to €1.50/kg, with those poorer types straight from the parlour back to 60c/kg in places. The heifer trade saw the general run of Angus and Hereford heifers make €1.70-1.95/kg. It was a similar story on the bullock side. The calf trade, however, does offer hope, with Barney reporting shippers of Friesians were averaging €100-105/hd.
Quality was also on George Candler's mind. "There are less customers for plain Hereford and Angus types and less customers for lighter Friesian bullocks." That said, George had little difficulty in moving better 400-500kg Continental bullocks at prices as high as €2.75/kg. In the 500-600kg bullock section, the tops saw €2.55/kg paid, with the best of the 600kg+ division reaching €2.35/kg. Buttressing all three of these weight divisions were examples of George's "plain dairy stock" at prices as low as €1.40/kg. Friesian bullocks with potential still have their fans though, with nine here at 430kg seeing the hammer fall at €1.81/kg.
It was a similar story here, good cattle sold for good money, while some of the plainer sorts on offer were sold for what my source described as "humble money". With numbers back, the general run of stock saw heavy bullocks sell from €1.95-2.35/kg, with forward stores making from €2.05-2.55/kg, while lighter stores averaged from €2.20-3.10/kg. Beef heifers saw averages just below €2.45/kg, with stores making €2.15-3.10/kg. Weanling bulls ranged from €2.10-3.15/kg, with weanling heifers selling from €2.20-3.10/kg. Cull cows sold for €1.25-2.05/kg.
Numbers here were also back last week. Sample prices from the sheets on the heifer side included a 570kg Limousin X that made €1,365 or €2.39/kg, a 445kg Aberdeen Angus at €2.24/kg and a 375kg Charolais X at €2.69/kg. On the bullock side, you had four black 532kg Herefords at €2.09/kg, a single 615kg Simmental at €2.11/kg, while three 335kg Charolais that hit €2.96/kg or €990/hd, shows that you can put cattle, love and money in the same sentence.
Numbers were good here given the time of year, and while it is always worth noting that good cattle will always sell, this sale saw plainer lots again improve on previous performances. Bulls over 600kg sold from €600-740 over the €1/kg with store bullocks making from €400-600 with the €1/kg. Beef heifers made €500-860 over the €1/kg, with store heifers selling for €300-640 over the weight. Dry cows were a good trade and sold from €620-1,260/hd.
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