Farm Ireland

Wednesday 17 January 2018

Buying store cattle this year was not an easy job


John Heney

Weather-wise, this back-end has turned out to be very good. However, the recent downpours have brought home the fact that winter -- and the time for the housing of cattle -- is fast approaching.

Over the past few weeks, I have been carrying out some much needed repairs on my cattle shed. Some gates have had to be replaced, shutters which had come loose have had to be repaired and in some cases renewed, and other little jobs around the yard, which had been put on the long finger, have also had to be addressed. I never cease to be amazed at how much satisfaction can be gained by doing jobs such as these and how little time it usually takes to get them done.

All my store cattle have been bought at this stage. It has not been an easy job, with the dramatic rise in prices. One outcome of this difficulty is that my average buying weight has dropped back about 6-8kg on last year. However, because I started buying at an earlier stage this year, I am hoping that this weight deficit will have been eliminated before they go into the sheds for the winter.

I have been replacing my cattle immediately after the finished cattle are sold. This is primarily because of the uncertainty of supply of Friesian store cattle resulting from the high number of calf exports last year. In order to do this successfully, I have had to ensure that sales of my finished cattle were managed in an orderly fashion.

Of course, it is very important to get the last cent when you are selling beef, but if the price you pay for these extra few cents is total disruption of your farm management system, then the price could be too high.

Delaying selling beef cattle for a few weeks just to get a few extra cents more doesn't make much sense either if you find that the price of store cattle has risen even more in the meantime.

I learned a long time ago that dealing with far-away meat plants and holding out for a better price can cause a lot of unwelcome disruption to my farming system.

The fact that I am still waiting for that extra 1p/lb promised to me 15 years ago by a factory situated in another province serves as a good reminder to me.

Also Read

I believe that it's best to settle on a factory where you find you can do business and then try and develop a good working relationship with them. The simple reality is that meat plants need a constant supply of cattle every bit as much as farmers need a dependable outlet for their beef.

You may not always get the exotic prices which are bandied about, but you will have a constant outlet for your cattle even in over-supply situations -- and when it comes to the poor tail-end of your cattle, which are an inevitable consequence of buying mixed Friesian cattle, you won't be told 'we don't want that type of bullock'.

Experience has shown me that if you try to win all of the time it just doesn't work.

All that I have left to sell of this year's cattle are a load I bought last spring. Little did I think when I paid what I considered to be an exorbitant price for them last April that the price of beef cattle would be where it is today. It just goes to reinforce how difficult forecasting the cattle trade is.

The high prices being paid for store cattle remind me of the predicted 'soft landing' in the housing market a few years ago.

At that time, a soft landing may have looked to be an attractive outcome for the building industry. However, I sincerely hope that if it does come to a 'soft landing' in the cattle trade, it won't mean that we all end up knee-deep in a substance found on every cattle farm.

John Heney farms at Kilfeacle, Co Tipperary

Indo Farming