Young bull issue must be addressed by meat plants

COMMENT: Yet again beef producers have been left holding the can with animals they were encouraged to produce  for two years and which the meat plants now say there is no real market for.

The most galling issue regarding bulls is the cost of rearing them. As every farmer will testify, putting young black and white bulls out to grass does not work. The only way to get these animals with sufficient fat cover prior to slaughter is to intensively feed them indoors. And yes meal prices have dropped a bit lately. But this is only a recent phenomenon. Back when the young bulls that are now ready market were at the weanling phase, the price of concentrates was at record high levels.

All of this prompts the question: should farmers heed anything the plants tell them?

Beef farming is not like pig or poultry production. Intensive livestock farmers cannot turn around their production patterns in a matter of weeks. The gestation period for a calf is nine months. And after that it will take at least 15 months to get that animal through to any sort of finishing weight.

But let’s take the spotlight away from young bulls for a second and turn it on to the various Angus and Hereford quality beef schemes now being operated by the meat plants. There is increasing evidence that beef farmers seeking out eligible calves and weanlings for both initiatives. Again it will take at least two years for these animals to reach slaughter weights. Significantly, only steers and heifers are eligible for the quality beef top-ups currently available. However, given the recent debacle over young bulls, who’s to say that the premium payments now on offer for such stock will be available if large numbers are submitted for slaughter two years’ hence.

Prior to Christmas both candidates in the Irish Farmers Association presidential election made great play of the need to establish a new Farmers’ Charter. And all of this makes perfect sense, provided its scope is extended to include the  Department of Agriculture and all the other bodies that interact commercially with primary producers.

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