While it is easy to state the obvious — that cattle numbers have pushed on again from last week at marts across the country — a wise old hand said to me, "Yes, but so too have the number of men with the cheque books".
At a time of plenty, which the autumn always is, it is the numbers and confidence of those men that really underpins the trade.
I begin in Kilmallock on Monday, where Denis Kirby reflected this sentiment. "Prices held well, considering the size of the sale we had".
Kilmallock traditionally doesn’t do small at this time of year, but with 1,874 animals entered, Denis said they were under pressure to accommodate such a big number — despite adding 22 new pens to the premises earlier in the year.
"Trade," Denis said, "was excellent, with the vast majority of sellers going home very pleased".
And why wouldn’t they, with bullocks making up against €2.35 a kg, and heifers hitting 2.15 a kg, although it has to be said that quality was the deciding factor.
In the dry cow section, the better continental types made up to €1.88 a kg (a 680kg Limousin at €1,280), however you have to balance those figures against the plainer Friesian types who at times struggled to go much past €1 a kilo, for example, 690kg making €705, or €1.02 a kg.
Commenting on the dry cow trade, Sean Leahy of Corrin said that, at their Tuesday sale, "The cow trade picked up a nice touch".
Sean put the improvement down to that, "A lot of dry cows are looking better, with even the lesser cow more in demand."
Sean’s yard boasted 900 animals on the day, with the trade "very good".
Although there was "a lot of better quality" animals on show — and these commanded very good prices — there was also a noticeable lift in prices for the Friesian type animal, with Sean commenting, "There was good demand from buyers for the Friesian animal".
The sale was dominated by the large number of "store types" present, with "not so many heavy cattle in it", Sean said.
A slightly unusual feature for the time of year was that, "There were very few lots under 400kg".
There might be nothing to this, apart from that the men who have them are keeping them just a little longer in the hope of better weights and maybe a better price later on — assuming of course that the predictions made all year about the numbers of younger stock in the system are correct.
Moving further south to Bandon, where Tom McCarthy reported Monday’s sale as "a good trade", but "definitely tougher for the plain or lighter Friesian, and there’s no point in saying otherwise," he said.
"Forward and heavy cattle were a good trade," Tom said.
But the "plain Holstein type" was finding it tough.
"The better Friesian bullock was in or around €300 with the weight. Herefords, depending on potential, "made €400 plus with the weight".
Returning to the poorer Friesian, Tom said, "They struggled to reach €100 to 150 with the weight, although at those prices, there were men for them."
As with all other mart managers I spoke to this week, Bandon will be open for business on this bank holiday Monday.
Traditionally, bank holidays see an influx of part-time farmers, as both sellers and buyers.
Although the economy (and the part-time farming that depends on it) may be under pressure, I have little doubt next Monday will see more new faces ringside.
One of those Monday marts next week will be Tralee, with mart manager Philip Healy saying, "We’ll definitely be in action Monday".
He described the "action" on Monday just gone as "steady", due in part to a "slight fall off in numbers due to the mild weather", as the farming people of Kerry take advantage of it to do more pressing farm work.
Although numbers were easier, the supply of customers wasn’t, which resulted in a full clearance, with Philip commenting, "In relation to price, quality was the deciding factor".
Although quality is always a seller, the "plainer Friesian types" were again, as elsewhere, under pressure, but the better ones met plenty of interest, with one lot of 475kg making €815.
Philip said, "There is a belief that beef could yet rise in the run-up to Christmas," which may account for "none of the plainer cattle went for less than €150 with the weight."
Another manager with an almost 100% clearance was Tom Harrington of Enniscorthy mart.
Last Tuesday’s sale saw 550 animals on offer, with Tom commenting that they had a "good few customers around" which led to "good demand and a good trade overall". Forward stores in particular "were in strong demand".
Examples of stock that left "a nice touch, given the year" were bunches of 2011, May and June-born bullocks, dairy stock which Tom averaged at 395kg making €575.
There were, however, he said, "straight cattle with no real bad one on them", he said.
Not a bad price at all, given that a number of marts reported that type at that weight not so keenly sought after this week.
Tom also said they had "a shake" of heavy bulls on the day, the majority of which went for over €2/kg.
Examples included a Charolais of 710kg that made €1,445, another Charolais of 650kg making €1,395, and a third of 665kg at €1,440, all of which were bought "for further feeding", Tom said.
Moving across the Shannon to the sale in Tuam, where Marion Devane said they had "a good yard of cattle" as well as those entered for their special Belgian Blue weanling sale (see sample prices in the table) on Monday.
Prices in the main sale for the better bullock regularly broke the €2 mark, but it was the weanling sale that most concentrated Marion’s mind.
She said that some weanling sellers were possibly a bit unrealistic in their expectations on price.
"The reality is that the shippers bought across the board.
"But they have specific contracts, and won’t move outside their requirement on either quality or price," she said.
This apparently came as a disappointment to some sellers who were possibly of the opinion their stock were better than the judges ringside decided.
That said, farmer buyers were plentiful for all types, including the heifers.
Moving back over the Shannon and down to Thurles, were Martin Ryan said they had "close on 1,000 cattle" on Monday.
"A good sale, but extremely dear for the better animal," he said.
He wasn’t kidding, with three Limousins of 523kg making €1,350, or €2.58 a kg, and four Belgian Blues of 578kg making €1,460, or €2.52 a kg; it wasn’t for the faint-hearted!
However, a plentiful supply of buyers with strong constitutions and stronger cheque books won out, because when the dealing was all done, Thurles effectively had a "full clearance", Martin said.
With confidence obviously very high, I was a little surprised to note that the Friesian bullock didn’t quite follow up the rise of the better cattle to the extent that often happens in a strong sale.
"The poorer bullock was actually a little easier. They typically made from €150 to €450 with the weight," he said.
Also reduced in price were heifers, according to Martin.
It’s been another good week for the mart trade, possibly helped by those EU cheques that began dropping into our letter boxes late last week.
Although the mantra has always been "better quality for better prices", you can buy gold too dear, which leads me to wonder is the poorer pricing of the so-called lesser cattle at marts the result of a farmer fixation with quality as opposed to profitability?
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