The last 12 months will go down as another very positive year for the mart trade. Taking a look at this week’s Martbids analysis tables, we see green arrows across the board – showing a price increase across all stock weight and quality categories when compared with 2022 prices.

One of the most positive aspects of the analysis is that the biggest price increases have come in the highest quality categories.

The gap has also widened between the average quality cattle and the top-quality category. This gap has increased by over 10 cent/kg in some instances, and the actual gap between producing average cattle and top end cattle is as high 50 cent/kg in some of the stock categories.

On a 400kg weanling that’s €200/head. In a herd selling 20 weanlings, that’s €4,000 extra being added to the bottom line by producing better quality cattle.

Weanling trade

A really healthy live export trade put a floor in the weanling trade for much of 2023. Exporters were very active for all types of stock.

This was an important factor in the trade, as it meant there was a route to market for top end weanlings along with the more average types.

A large proportion of Irish weanlings are traded in the 300-400kg category, and it was this weight category that saw some of the largest price increases in 2023.

Top end 300-400kg bull weanlings were up 37 cent/kg on 2022 trading, the largest price increase we have seen in the last 4 years.

Average weanlings in the same weight category were up 29 cent/kg on 2022 prices. Heavier bulls saw positive movement but not to the same extent, with 450kg + weanling bulls up between 11-18 cent/kg depending on quality.

Weanling heifers also saw large increases with top quality weanling heifers in the 300-400kg weight bracket coming in at €3.41/kg in 2023, an increase of 34 cent/kg on the 2022 price.

Heavier weanling heifers also saw exceptional demand in 2023, with the top quality heavy heifer weanling up 34 cent/kg in 2023 to come in at €3.35/kg.

Beef Cattle

R3 bullocks hit a high of €5.58/kg in May 2023, and the mart trade followed the beef trade closely again in 2023.

Factory agents, while maybe not as common at the ringside during all of 2023 when compared with their presence in 2022, still kept a floor underneath the heavy cattle trade for much of the year.

Store heifers and bullocks saw some of the biggest price increases in 2023.

Top quality heifers in the 400-500kg weight bracket came in at €3.00/kg in 2023, up 19 cent/kg on the previous year’s trading.

The bottom end of heifers, which are made of predominantly dairy cross stock were also up 10 cent/kg in the 400-500kg weight bracket in 2023 to €2.22/kg.

Store bullocks also saw positive movement, with top end 400-500kg bullocks coming in at €3.04/kg – up 20 cent/kg on the 2022 price.

Heavy bullocks over 500kg were a similar trade, with the top quality bullock over 500kg coming in at €3.04/kg in 2023, a lift of 14 cent/kg on the 2022 price.

Mart throughput

The year 2023 will go down as another very positive one for marts in terms of throughput. COVID-19 disruptions have been long forgotten, and livestock numbers being sold through marts during the year have stayed up remarkably well.

Taking a look at the first 11 months of 2023, there were 1,741,904 cattle sold through the country’s marts.

This compares to a figure of 1,742,308 for the same period of 2022 and shows a drop of just over 400 head in the last 12 months. One slightly negative take on the data is the reduction in animals being sold through marts in the Connaught province.

There were 351,051 animals sold through marts in Connaught in the Jan-Nov period of 2023, compared to 363,575 animals sold in the same period in 2022.

The 12,524 head or 3% reduction is a function of reducing suckler cow numbers in the western counties. With an ever increasing focus on organics and a switch away from production agriculture, numbers will continue to reduce in the next few years.

What this will do for marts in the region is unknown, but will almost certainly see some restructuring taking place down the line.