Like many occupations that involve manual labour, farming looks easy from the outside. You feed this, you milk that, drive the tractor around and that is that.
One thing that is nearly always lost on non-farmers is that no two farms are the same.
Benchmarking and the public sharing of detailed input costs might be useful to new entrants in the dairy sector, for example, but such comparisons are just as likely to mislead, since they cannot take account of the dozen other factors that do not fit neatly in a spreadsheet.
It is beyond the scope of this little column to discuss these factors, but the most obvious one is the dairy farmer’s approach to the cow herself. Is her only job to turn a kilo of grass into a kilo of milk? Or is her role more balanced and she gets a chance to produce a non-replacement calf that will become a decent beef animal?
The only interest I have in calf sales is as a buyer for my novice dairy-beef system
The different approaches towards the cow and the calf she gives birth to is very evident in calf sales. Before going any further, let me state that I do not judge any farmer and it is none of my business what type of business they run. The only interest I have in calf sales is as a buyer for my novice dairy-beef system.
The current range of calves on offer is huge. At one recent sale I watched online, the auctioneer could not get any bid for a pen of four Friesian bulls that were a fortnight old and looked OK to my amateur eyes.
At the other end of the scale, the same mart saw over 20 Charolais bulls and heifers easily make €350 to €400 at 21 days of age – the few Belgian Blue calves on offer were even dearer. This must give the cow a great start in her contribution to the farm’s bottom line.
All the weanlings will be out on grass at that stage and the cubicle shed will be cleaned before starting its other job as a calf shed
In between the above extremes, there were a few Angus, Hereford, and Limousin heifers that were around my price range and my thumb drifted to the bid button on the iPhone.
Any other year, I might have taken a chance on a few and found someplace in the shed for them, but we have a family wedding in Spain in the middle of March – no milk powder will be whisked until we are home and recovered from that.
All the weanlings will be out on grass at that stage and the cubicle shed will be cleaned before starting its other job as a calf shed.
I will bring the cheque book to the one that displays the weights
The plan is to buy 30 calves over two visits to the local mart. This will give the first 15 calves and myself a chance to settle into a routine before the second 15 arrive. Of the two marts in our area, one displays the calf’s weight, while the other does not.
I will bring the cheque book to the one that displays the weights, since that information helps a non-dealer like myself buy evenly matched bunches.
Displaying the dam’s breed would be a bonus and would give any mart an advantage over its competitors when it comes to attracting more calf buyers.