Farm Ireland

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Suckler trade confounds all the predictions

A key aspect of a profitable suckler cow is the ability to wean a calf that weighs at least 350kg throughout her lifetime.
A key aspect of a profitable suckler cow is the ability to wean a calf that weighs at least 350kg throughout her lifetime.
Martin Coughlan

Martin Coughlan

MAYBE it is the sunshine taking effect but I want to look at a good news story from the current cattle mart scene. It is the continuing strength of the weanling trade when only three years ago its demise was being predicted.

Like Mark Twain, reports of the demise of the Irish suckler industry appear to have been “greatly exaggerated”.

Three years ago in the late summer of 2014 — with fac­tory prices for bulls and bull­ocks apparently stuck between €3.45-3.60/kg — the outlook for the weanling producer was not good.

With the suckler business tough at the best of times and deregulated milk production appearing very attractive, many younger suckler farmers decid­ed to go down the road of the monthly cheque and switched codes.

Three years on and factory prices are 60-70c/kg better for beef and real competition has come back into the market place. The boats are back and increasing in number.

Demand for beef across Europe and into Africa and Asia has seen the revitalisation of the Irish live shipping trade.

Traditional names in the business are once again inject­ing very significant amounts of money into the rural economy as they strive to fill contracts from Europe to Turkey to North Africa.

Who are the beneficiaries of all this activity?

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The entire cattle business and everyone involved in it — from farmers, to shippers, to hauliers to marts and even the factories — can surely point out to their supermarket customers that increased numbers leaving this isle live for more exotic climates is further evidence that Irish cattle and beef are internationally recognised for both quality and reliability of supply.

It’s hard to credit that just six months ago one farm organisa­tion, the ICSA, called for suckler farmers to slaughter up to 20pc of their breeding stock.

Now the concern is whether there will be enough quality weanling cattle in the system to fully fill all the requirements. So what’s happened? Beef prices in some of the world’s major producers have increased as international and local demand has soaked up extra supplies.

This has maintained the price of beef to the farmer in the USA at €4.14/kg, Australia has seen prices increase by al­most 10pc in year to €3.69/kg for an R grade steer. Even Brazil, while still operating well below European, Australian or US prices, is up 13pc to €2.49/kg.

The effect on the weanling mart trade so far this summer is, despite an occasional speed wobble, that prices in general have been strong for export types with heavier feeder stock also improved.

Three weeks ago the average price of your 100-299kg bull weanling was €2.36/kg — up 16c/kg on the previous week; two weeks ago his price dipped by 14c/kg to €2.22/kg, but last week prices bounced back to sit on a three week high of €2.47/kg.

It’s a similar story with the 300-399kg animal with today’s average price of €2.33/kg a full 10c/kg ahead of his price in the last week of May.

The only downer is the 400- 600kg bull who, having fin­ished May on an average of €2.38/kg, has slipped back over the last three week to €2.19/kg.

Marts Roundup


In the cattle game colour matters as was the case of 334kg red Limousin bull here — right breed, right colour and €2.99/ kg; maybe not one for the purist but there is no arguing with the €3.43/kg price given for a yellow Charolais, also a bull. At the other end, the humble black and white Friesian varied up and down a bit from €2.00/kg for 535kgs to €1.66/kg for 632kgs. Store heifers sold from €2.00-2.74/kg while the cow trade saw a 698kg Charolais Friesian cross make €1.65/kg. Plainer Friesian types made from €1.27-1.36/kg with a solitary 449kg Jersey making .96c/kg.


Bullocks averaged from €2.10-2.77/kg with a 675kg Charolais making €2.19/kg, a 500kg Aberdeen Angus a very impressive €2.70/kg with that top of €2.77/kg achieved by a 325kg Limousin. Heifers averaged from €2.26-3.00kg with the top of the market here also at the lighter end as in a 305kg Limousin. Typical of the heavier heifers were a 610kg Charolais and a 590kg Limousin who made €2.28 and 2.35/ kg. In the weanling ring bulls averaged from €2.63-3.45/kg with Charolais from 415-500kgs making from €2.42/kg back to €2.42/kg. Weanling heifers averaged from €2.52-3.57/kg with a 280kg Belgian Blue getting that top call.


With farmers busy at hay and silage, George Chandler noted that the slide in cull cow prices was effectively halted last week due to reduced numbers. Beef and both forward and quality stores were in demand with 600kg+ bullocks making from €1.80- 2.35/kg while those in the 500-600kg clocked from €1.70-2.50/kg. Among those lighter stores price ran from €1.65-2.75/kg in the 400-500kg section while below 400kg prices averages went from €1.45-2.85/kg. Beef heifers sold from €2.00-2.55/kg with forward store types selling from €2.00-2.60/kg.


Numbers were also lower here for the same reasons as at Kilkenny, good silage and hay weather resulting in buyers driving on and keeping the trade in line with the previous week. Beef and forward store bullocks sold from €650-1,050 over the €/kg with the lighter continental store making from €550-825 over the €/kg. Heifers were also a steady/good trade with beef types making from €550-1,030 with €/kg while store heifers sold from €450-785 with the €/kg. In the cow ring, beef cows made from €420-865 over the weight, while store cows sold from €150- 580 also over the €/kg.


With farmers, agents and shippers in attendance, trade was brisk for all types. Bullocks sold from €2.00-2.70/kg with the trade for heifers seeing a top call of €3.12/ kg off a base of €2.20/kg. Bulls averaged from €2.00-3.30/kg across all the weights while the trade for fat cows saw prices range from €600-1,700/hd.


Numbers were behind on last week, but the trade was “lively” with Aberdeen Angus and Hereford beef and forward stores selling from €780-860 with the €/ kg. There was a nice selection of stores with Aberdeen Angus and Hereford’s selling from €2.00-2.20/kg, while Charolais and Limousins saw prices range from €2.20- 2.65/kg, with the choice lot here being f our 420kg Charolais who made €1,180/hd or €2.81/kg. The cow trade was described as “possibly not as aggressive as previously” with continentals hitting the €2.00/kg bracket back to between €1.25-1.40/kg for Friesians


The bullock under 400kgs had a good day out with the top of 350-370kg Charolais cattle seeing prices from €2.89-3.00/kg.

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