It is very tempting to explain away the reason for larger than expected numbers of cattle at marts across the country this week being down totally to the very bad weather.
It is indeed a major driver — but the cattle trade is never that simple, with Denis Kirby in Kilmallock observing, "The weather is driving cattle either indoors or to the marts, but the prices in the marts are also pulling them in, anyway".
It is with Kilmallock that I start this week, and their sale on Monday last. Denis said they had 1,092 animals on show, including 355 calves, with prices well maintained.
He said an analysis of the figures from this week versus the same week last year showed two things very clearly.
Firstly, numbers were up 33%, and secondly, prices for heavier cattle and cull cows were up about €300 a head. "It’s the pull of the prices as much as the weather that’s tempting men in," he reiterated. "Prices are just too attractive to leave behind".
The question of what you do with the money when you get it is one that would have most of us weighing up whether to pay the feed merchant or co-op, or reinvest in younger stock.
However, Denis said he spoke to one man who had sold a cull cow that made €1,100, who said he was going to bring his wife and young family off on a holiday on the strength of it.
If he can make the time, and given the weather at present, I think he’s dead right.
Moving to Tuesday and Enniscorthy in Co Wexford, where Tom Harrington said there was very little change in prices or numbers from previous weeks.
There was, he said, "very keen demand and competition, although Friesians, especially the plainer sorts, were easier." That said, Enniscorthy had another complete clearance.
Tom noted that they had a good show of factory cattle — which shows that when offered a choice that has nothing to do with weather, farmers with heavy cattle continue to avail of the mart option in growing numbers.
Tuesday last also saw a bigger than normal sale in Corrin/Fermoy, with 750 animals on offer. Sean Leahy told me that there appeared to be "a lot of stock about, especially heavier cattle, factory type stock."
As in recent weeks, they had a number of factory buyers present. Their continuing presence, he speculated, may have helped pull some extra numbers.
Cull cow prices were no doubt helped by this extra strength ringside, with Sean citing examples that included a Simmental weighing 582 kilos making €1,155, and a Friesian of 672 kilos making €1,185.
Further to this, he added, "Even ones straight out of the milking parlour were making €1.55 a kilo".
Friesian bullocks, however, were back. "You can judge yourself how much, by the sheets," he said. The two examples I give below are typical.
In general though, prices were very good, with Sean commenting that men with cattle to sell are continuing to move them away steadily.
Still in Cork but this time Macroom on Saturday last where the 460 cattle and 60 calves on offer met an equally steady trade with plenty of buyers.
As would be the case in Corrin/Fermoy three days later, my information is that Friesians were easier, with some of the plainer types possibly back by €80 to 90 a head compared to three weeks ago.
The general feeling was that in the Fermoy area, the weather had a direct effect with the sale, "big when it should have been small", and that it was more obvious that men were choosing to sell rather than face the consequences of returning home.
Moving south to Bandon on Monday where Tom McCarthy reported that his part of the world had escaped the worst of the weather, and his trade continues to be largely unaffected by the weather.
"We achieved a full clearance of the 360 cattle and 402 calves with some great prices paid," he said.
Tom said they had a surprising number of heifers, especially the finished types.
Averages for bullocks ranged as follows: Continentals €450-950 with the weight, Hereford and Angus: €380-860 with the weight, Friesians €330-710 with the weight.
Discussing the fallout from the weather, Tom said, "Weather is going to be the biggest influence on the trade, even as it is, you can see men with their heads down. They’re depressed.
They can’t get any work done, silage, topping, manure, nothing, it’s very tough."
He’s right — and it’s something we all need to watch out for.
Farming can be very stressful, especially in these conditions, and if it’s starting to get the better of you, stop a while and rest, have that cup of tea and maybe take a spin into town, mix with people and talk. It helps.
Over in Castleisland in the county of Kerry, Richard Hartnett makes a further reference to the weather, "The man above has knocked some of the confidence out of the trade."
The 300 calves in their sale were, he said, "A good trade", especially Hereford and Angus, with prices hitting between €330 and 400.
Weanlings were back somewhat, with October born Charolais bull weanlings weighing 330 kilos making €775.
Richard said their last sale before the close of the disadvantaged areas scheme last week was underpinned by the need men had to fill their quota requirements.
Next week, he reckons, will possibly see a more accurate picture emerge on prices, with the closing date for the scheme now past.
Back in Tipperary, Michael Harty in Nenagh mart said the 450 animals they had on show on Tuesday last was "very big" for the day of the year.
Good cattle were a good trade, he said, but it was obvious that the smaller, plainer Friesian was a little easier.
Also easier, he said, were Friesian bulls, with the weather having them looking "a little raw".
Whether raw or not, factory bosses saying in the press this week that bull prices will have to be pulled back below bullock prices is not helping their case.
They could, of course, keep the bull price where it is, and lift the bullock price, and create the differential that way!
Returning to the bullocks and heifers, Michael said anything "beef or near beef" was a good trade.
Also more evident than recently was that sellers were "more anxious to sell", and this applied to both suckler and dairy men, he said. Decisions no doubt influenced by ground and grass conditions at home.
The previous day, Monday at Mid Tipp Mart in Thurles, 571 cattle went under the hammer. Mart manager Martin Ryan said it was, "A fantastic trade with increased numbers out".
As in other marts, factory men were active, with buyers from up the country putting pressure on the local agents for heavier stock.
As was to be the case in Nenagh the following day, Martin felt there was a certain "carefulness" shown by buyers in their approach to bulls.
More so possibly for the Friesian types, he said, as men weighed the length of keep required against the prospects for the trade in 12 months’ time, should factories make good on their threat to cut the price of bulls.
Leaving aside that possibility, the trade for all other classes bounced along very nicely, with the majority of sellers, according to Martin, "Having to be mad to bring cattle home".
The result was little if anything was left unsold.
Friday of last week also saw prices in Carrick on Suir continue to be maintained and in some cases push on for the 170 cattle present. Auctioneer Michael Cunningham said it was, "A serious trade, with five men for every animal that came into the ring."
Having been at the ringside myself, I can vouch there was a very large attendance. "Even allowing for the fact it was a wet day, and you always get more men on those days, there were definitely more buyers," he said.
As I made my way around the pens, passing by dealers, farmer buyers, the odd factory agent and sellers, every conversation contained some reference to the "lousy weather".
One man with an expression that was a cross between resignation and indignation told me that he intended to put in his 30 or so "fatteners" and keep them in.
"I intended," he said, "as I do every year to feed them on grass, but there’s no point, they’re better off inside. At least I know they’ll get to finish the nuts, and not disappear them into the muck."
It’s an unfortunate fact that the optimism that has been so prevalent all year is now severely threatened by that one constant of Irish farming, the weather.
Back to News Headlines