Fishing cattle for the factories
When your income depends on how much weight you can efficiently put on your cattle, it is natural to surmise on how well your cattle are thriving.
However, you will never know until you see the returns on the factory docket. This moment of truth arrived for me on August 15 when I sent my first load to the factory.
While it's still far too early to see any real patterns emerging, the thing that struck me most was how similar these early results were to last year's early kill sheets.
This was very positive, as we all remember how good last year's summer was. Fat scores were similar to last year and considering the poor weather and how important it is to finish cattle properly to get a good kill-out, I'm a relieved man.
Unfortunately, the grades showed little change in spite of the fact that I felt I had much better cattle this year. I must confess that I can never fully understand the results of the mechanical grading system, so I have included pictures of some of the cattle on my first load.
Comparing number 7 with a grade of O-4- with number 71 with a grade of P+2+, I felt that number 71 could have been at least an O3.
The grades that confused me most was that for number 8, which I thought had very good confirmation, but he only managed an O- which of course is right next to a P.
The only consolation I take from it all is that the good and the bad results tend to cancel one another out and in the end it made very little difference to the overall price of the load of cattle.
What I did find encouraging was a slight increase in carcase weight, but this may not be maintained as there appears to be a substantial decrease in the size of my second run of cattle.
This is probably down to the very high store prices which prevailed at the time last year and how difficult it was to buy stores.
The opposite appears to be happening this autumn and one must wonder, if the current weather-driven reduction in beef and store prices doesn't stop, will we once again see a huge exodus of cheap calves leaving the country next year?
If we are to have any faith in the credibility of the much vaunted Food Harvest 2020 report, I believe this current slide in cattle prices is something that our minister and the factory bosses must address immediately.
It's no use calling for the stable door to be closed when a huge amount of the raw material needed for our valuable beef industry has again disappeared overseas for little or nothing.
One group that hadn't been doing that well early in the year continue to improve since I treated them with copper.
Whether or not it was part of the problem, the lime that I put out last spring on the fields they are grazing appears to be working well and grass supply has improved greatly. This is giving these cattle a great chance to thrive as autumn approaches.
Another small group of cattle that I bought in the spring weighing just under 400kg are also showing good signs of improvement.
Because of the wet year, I was worried that I might have to feed them barley at grass to finish them, but now it's beginning to look as if they will make it on grass alone, so fingers crossed.
For decades we have been constantly bombarded with advice on how to be better farmers.
We all need to listen to advice, but the reality is that, if we were to continue doing many of the things we were advised to do over the decades, we would all be in jail now.
As farmers, we continue to attend seminars and open days to try to improve our systems and businesses. However, I notice that an increasing number of the speakers are simply using these seminars to promote their own (mostly expensive) products and services.
This was highlighted to me while attending a recent agricultural show. I stopped to listen to a factory representative promote the virtues of producing quality cattle and how it would be of benefit to farmers' income.
I found it very ironic that while he was busy extolling the virtues of producing quality cattle, back at head office his masters were again slashing the price they were prepared to pay for these very same quality animals, irrespective of what it cost the farmer to produce. It really would make you think.
John Heney is a beef farmer in Kilfeakle, Co Tipperary