Why choosing the right bullock has become a lottery
On a grass finishing beef farm such as mine, late summer/autumn is a very important time of the year. This is when I sell my finished cattle and buy in their replacements.
The unpredictability of this year's weather has meant that for most of the year we have really had to play it by ear.
The recent spell of good weather was very welcome and the extra few weeks of fresh grass have been very helpful in getting the best possible finish on the last of my beef cattle.
At the marts, store cattle are also looking well and in spite of earlier concerns are also selling quite well.
Choosing the right type of store bullock to suit our particular farming enterprise is very important.
More often than not what was once regarded as a critical skill in the cattle business appears to have now developed into little more than a glorified lottery.
I find it increasingly difficult to know if I am buying a bullock who has not enjoyed the luxury of a well nourished youth and as a result has got good potential to improve, or if I am buying an animal who with age will tend to develop some undesirable traits generally associated with dairy type antecedents.
I recently bought two very different bunches of cattle for around the same price. One was a bunch of well minded square Friesians with, of course, the usual one or two middling animals mixed in weighing 450kg.
The second bunch of Friesians were much taller and had less condition, but looked far scopier and weighed 470kg.
So which bunch will leave the most profit? The answer is that I don't really know, but I am really looking forward to finding out next year.
Speaking of finishing cattle, the bullock (pictured) whose fortunes I have been following in this column during the summer made his way to the factory recently.
This bullock was the smallest of a group of four store cattle bought in September last year averaging 423kg live weight. Factory returns showed that he killed-out a very good 336.5kg. with a confirmation grade of O-.
While I was really happy with his kill-out weight and confirmation grade I must confess that I was surprised that a bullock which I felt had a very good finish had a fat score of only 2+.
Obviously I got it wrong as the correctness of the mechanical grading machine's low fat score was confirmed to me later by the opinion of two independent graders who examined the images.
However, as if to add to my confusion, a very plain poor looking bullock on a more recent load that I had really hated looking at every day this summer, ended up with an excellent fat score of 3=.
It would appear that I still have a lot to learn about cattle farming.
On a far more positive note, this year's fat scores overall remain really good, particularly considering the extremely challenging spring and summer.
In relation to grass supply, I find that - but for the great weather we have been getting recently - I would be in a bit of trouble by now.
After a slow start in selling my beef cattle I have recently had to speed up sales in order to free up more land for my increasing number of bought-in store cattle.
Even so, I have never seen my farm as bare as it is currently, all I can hope for now is that the weather remains good, otherwise I may have to consider putting cattle into the shed much earlier than I would like. This is something which I really don't want to do as my silage supply is, let's say, somewhat limited.
As I have said already we were really in uncharted waters with our farming this year. While the myriad forms of bad weather posed huge challenges for Irish farming, it is truly amazing how most Irish farmers in all the various farming enterprises managed to cope with the many forms of adversity placed in their paths and succeeded in keeping the show on the road.
This is something I believe farmers as a sector of Irish society should feel really proud of and should, I believe, be entitled to get some form of recognition from 'the powers that be' for their achievements.
John Heney farms in Kilfeacle, Co Tipperary
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