The Irish beef industry, and especially the suckler sector, is facing into one of the biggest unknowns it has ever witnessed.

Predictions can be made, but nobody knows what Brexit will mean for the Irish beef sector. However, one thing looks certain – farmers will continue to dig in deep to buy quality suckler cows.

This was particularly evident at a number of recent clearance sales, where cows with calves at foot edged toward and passed the €2,000 mark on many occasions.

A local farmer told me of a visit to a clearance sale of cows and calves in recent days.

The farmer had every intention of securing a number of herd replacements, only to find he had underestimated their worth by about €500-600/head.

Given the costs of keeping a suckler cow for a year, the farmer was forced to question ‘would they ever pay me back for buying them?’.

His answer was a definite no, but there were still plenty of other buyers who thought they could justify the outlay.

Balla Mart

Balla Mart held its weekly cattle sale on Saturday and light heifer prices climbed by €20-40/head due to export demand.

Store steers (up to 400kg) made an average price of €2.87/kg, steers weighing 400-500kg averaged €2.36/kg and the heavier lots (500kg+) sold for €2.24/kg.

Sample steer prices:
  • Limousin: 275kg – €915 or €3.33/kg.
  • Charolais: 405kg – €1,240 or €3.06/kg.
  • Limousin: 580kg – €1,475 or €2.54/kg.
  • Limousin: 610kg – €1,505 or €2.47/kg.
  • Charolais: 705kg – €1,700 or €2.41/kg.

Some 250 lots of heifers were on offer in the Mayo-based venue and the trade improved on last week due to the presence of agents in the company of a Turkish buyer.

Heifers weighing up to 400kg sold at €2.64/kg, the heavier lots (400-500kg) made €2.29/kg and the forward types traded at €2.65/kg.

Sample heifer prices:
  • Charolais: 295kg – €1,000 or €3.39/kg.
  • Charolais: 320kg – €1,100 or €3.44/kg.
  • Belgian Blue: 455kg – €1,290 or €2.84/kg.
  • Belgian Blue: 550kg – €1,470 or €2.60/kg.
  • Charolais: 680kg – €1,670 or €2.46/kg.

There were also 110 cows on offer in Balla Mart on Saturday. Topping these was a three-year-old Limousin cow with a Limousin heifer calf at foot. This pair sold for €2,360. In addition, a 850kg Charolais dry cow sold for €1,810 or €2.13/kg.

Tullow Mart

There was another large sale of cattle in Tullow Mart on Friday, where the trade remained steady for all of the forward cattle on offer.

Store steers met with a very lively trade, as an increase in grass growth brought more farmers to the ringside.

Continental-type stores traded at €2.20-2.75/kg, Angus and Hereford steers sold for €2/kg and the Friesians on offer made €1.80/kg.

Beef and forward heifers continued in the same vein as last week and the Hereford and Angus lots on offer sold for €1.95-2.30/kg.

There was also a very noticeable demand from exporters for Limousin and Charolais heifers born from mid-2016 on. These lots sold for €2.40-2.70/kg, while the majority of the stores made €2.20-2.50/kg.

However, cow prices were slightly easier on Friday. But, these animals continued to meet an honest trade. The Friesians sold for €100 over and the continental types made €750-800 over.

The Carlow-based venue also featured a special clearance sale of 50 cows with calves at foot on Friday. A Charolais cow with a bull calf at foot topped the trading at €2,500 and a number of other cows sold for €2,200-2,400.

Carnew Mart

Some 830 cattle passed through the ring in Carnew Mart on Saturday, where beef cattle continued to meet an exceptionally strong trade.

Beef and forward steers sold for €750-1,050 over, the lighter continental types traded at €550-880 over and the weanling bulls made €450-900 over.

Exporters also played a key role in the Wicklow-based venue on Saturday. These buyers focused on top-quality Belgian Blue bulls and heifers and paid prices of up to €3.25/kg to secure numbers.

The beef heifer trade remained on par with last week and prices of €550-1,105 over were paid for suitably-fleshed lots.

Carnew Mart also featured an entry of 50 suckler cows on Saturday. These animals met with strong demand and sold for €1,450-2,350. The in-calf cows on offer reached prices of €1,100-1,650/head.

Sample steer prices:
  • Two Limousin steers: 715kg – €1,740 or €2.43/kg.
  • Three Hereford steers: 612kg – €1,295 or €2.12/kg.
  • One Charolais steer: 732kg – €1,710 or €2.34/kg.
  • Two Charolais steers: 750kg – €1,780 or €2.37/kg.
  • Three Charolais steers: 662kg – €1,620 or €2.45/kg.
  • Three Charolais steers: 550kg – €1,330 or €2.41/kg.