Autumn is a time of change, the days get shorter, the leaves change colour — and customers not seen ringside at cattle sales since the spring or the previous autumn begin to gradually reappear.
Despite all the concerns about whether there would be buyers for stores or cattle for sheds this autumn, they have gradually begun to return.
Like birds to nest or salmon to spawn, there is no denying nature.
Beginning in Bandon on Monday where, according to mart manager Tom McCarthy, "There was a bit more confidence about, and definitely more men out looking for stock".
Numbers were also up, with Tom reporting that bullock numbers were divided roughly 50/50, heavy cattle and 2011-born.
In relation to prices, he said the better quality 2011 born store was up, while the "genuine" Friesian held well. The heifer trade was also good, he said — this on the back of a bigger selection, especially in the 450 kg and upwards section. In relation to dry cows, the price range reflected the quality and finish. Tom said factory agents were "very anxious for the better cow". Examples included one 755 kilo Friesian which made €1,430, and a "softer type" Charolais of 815 kg which made €1,390. Folding a number of animals "that probably came straight from the parlour" into the mix, this gave a price range of "€100 under to €675 over", Tom said.
Also reporting an improved trade was John O’Mahony of Macroom, whose sale on Saturday also saw bigger numbers. "Definitely a lift of €20 to €30 a head overall", he reported. Examples included six Herefords of 348 kg which made €720, or €2.07 a kilo, while a 431 kg Aberdeen Angus made €850, or €1.97 a kilo. The Friesian bullock however was largely unchanged, at about €1.50 to €1.60 a kilo. The weanling side of the sale saw 200 go under the hammer. Sample prices included a Belgian Blue of 197 kilos making €560, three Limousins at 268 kg making €675, and a Simmental of 347 kilos hitting €845.
Philip Healy of Tralee was also up beat about their sale which was held on Monday of this week. With "numbers a little bigger and more farmers present", the €20 to 30 lift seen in Macroom on Saturday strengthened by another €20, with Philip reporting a week-on-week increase of €50 across the board in Tralee. The price lift, he considered, was down to "the harvest being saved", plus a bit of extra fodder being put away, which meant that "a few extra men" could find time to venture out for the day, and more confidently, knowing that things at home were more or less as they should be. They helped demand for the Friesian animal, he said, stocking up "on stores to be let run on for the summer" of 2013. "It was very positive" he concluded.
Unfortunately not as positive was Richard Harnett of Castleisland who said their sale on Monday "was tough, especially for the animal under 350 kgs". The problem in that part of the world is very simple, the lack of fodder and the cost of buying it, or concentrates. "Men are afraid of feeding," he said. This has led to a "total lack of confidence among farmers", he said.
He cited the example of bucket reared Aberdeen Angus bull weanlings making just €345 each, while weanling heifers made €370.
It’s very easy to say that an improvement will surely come, with the improved weather and a greater appetite elsewhere for stock — but it might be equally encouraging to see the Minister for Agriculture actually leave his office and go visit those areas hardest hit by bad weather, something he should have done months ago, in my opinion!
Moving east to Carlow and their sale, also on Monday last, where manager Jimmy Walsh said numbers were up in line with the traditional autumn trend.
He said, "There’s a lot of confidence back in the trade, with the harvest done, men are in good form, and a right good crowd." The trade was marked, he said, by the good cattle being "better", but the lesser Friesians were "tricky". What went on very well on the day were what I gathered to be 2011-born continentals which Jimmy described as "stock with a lot of potential" — animals who had not been "pushed" during the summer and now appeared "growthy". The type I suspect that would fall in to the category of what a late uncle of mine use to describe as the "Real McCoy", big-framed bullocks with the potential to flesh really well.
Confidence is also back among the farmers of Co Clare, with Sean Ryan telling me that last Saturday saw "a serious number of serious cattle" at his sale in Sixmilebridge. There was, he said, "a better bite to the trade and better demand". As would be the case in Bandon a few days later, cull cows were up in price, with more demand for the heavier ones. Demand was also improved for the small number of Holstein-Friesian types present, with Sean commenting "but at a price". A welcome reversal of the situation of recent weeks.
Another Ryan, Martin at Thurles mart was in fine form when I contacted him about his Monday sale. When I asked how he was, he replied, "Did you know, Martin, that 20% of people who ask that question are disingenuous, and the other 80% would prefer you had a problem". I’m still trying to figure that one out.
What needed no figuring out was his report of a "huge number of cattle [737 all told] making fine money". There were, he said, "Great prices for all cattle with the exception of the Friesian". Pausing for a second, he added, "Correction, except the Holstein-Friesian bullock". The reason for the "great prices" was, as in many other places "a return in confidence, especially for forward stock", he said. The trend continues of farmers presenting cattle off grass at marts, that in a normal year might have gone straight to the factory, due to a fear of "getting cut" by the QPS, said Martin.
An interesting feature on Monday in Thurles was the number of Friesian cattle present. "Two thirds of the yard was Friesian, which is unusual, we’d normally only have 20% to 30% Friesian," said Martin. Is this a portent of things to come, as the dairy sector mushrooms?
Across in Kilmallock on Monday, a big sale of nearly 1,100 animals saw the limelight being captured by a set of Belgian Blue triplets!
Weighing in after two years at 566kg, they made €1,125 each!
Denis Kirby said their sale numbers had more or less "normalised for the time of the year".
Trade was "good", he said, with plenty of buyers. Friesian numbers, as in Thurles, accounted for a good share of the stock present, with Denis calculating that 40 to 45% present were of that breed. What was more surprising to hear, however, was that Monday saw a number of lots of cattle which had been housed during the bad weather only being released now.
"They were there," Denis said, "Cattle with the mark of the house still fresh on them".
Again, I ask, where was our minister when their owners were being put to the pin of their collar with no grass, poor silage or no silage, and expensive concentrates.
Back ringside, Dennis commented that it was good to see the annual return of the "autumn buyers".
Corrin in Cork on Tuesday was my last stop this week. Sean Leahy said they had a very big sale, with nearly 800 cattle present. As in many other places, "the shed men were out", said Sean. Yet again, of interest to a lot of buyers was the better Friesian bullock. "The ones of 450 to 500 kilos sold away very well", said Sean, with prices beginning at €200 to €220 with the weight.
Of interest to certain fatteners were the lighter type heifers, while both Angus and Hereford heifers suitable for killing were very much in demand, according to Sean.
Trade overall, he said, was "very good". "We got them all sold," he concluded.
Before wrapping up, Sean passed a comment I haven’t heard in a while, on how farmers are maybe still viewing the difficulties with the banks and the uncertainty over the euro.
"The men with the factory cheque," he said, "probably prefer to put it back into cattle, as it possibly gives them more options."
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