I have been shocked by what is happening at the Christmas fatstock sales.

A few years ago, there were only one or two fatstock sales and they had fat cattle that were ready for killing. On top of that, there were only a few really decent prices for the very best stock. The rest made normal beef price.

How times have changed. Now nearly every mart has a fatstock sale and the animals presented are making massively inflated prices. A lot of cattle are making over £3,000 and some get into top prices around the £10,000 mark.

Who is driving these prices up? It does not seem to be the meat factories, as I do not see where they can sell this meat to make a profit. There is certainly no money in turning these cattle into mince.

Some butchers are buying at the fatstock sales. I suppose it is a bit of good publicity, and with their picture in the paper, it may boost sales a little. But I am certain the beef will not taste any better.

Replacement stock

There is one other aspect that really puzzles me and that is that a lot of the female stock are being bought by farmers who are going to breed from them. I honestly cannot get my head round this. What kind of cows are they going to make?

For years, I have been following advice on best practice in my suckler herd and it was all about having cows that can calve easily, have lots of milk to feed the calf and can survive on a forage only diet. I have worked hard to get to the herd of cows that I have now, but I am starting to wonder if I am completely wrong.

At all these sales, there are hundreds of farmers packed in around the rings, all keen to get in on the action. I have no doubt that if I brought my in-calf heifers to any of these sales, no one would give them a second look.

These are heifers that have generations of maternal genetic breeding and have the potential to make (what I think will be) really good cows. I am proud of what I have produced.

If you ask any agricultural advisers, they would tell us not to breed these show type cattle, as they will be difficult to calve and (probably) have no milk. But either they are not getting the message across, or no-one is listening.


A big part of the issue is that there are so many part-time suckler farmers. They make their income from a full-time job and they are prepared to spend it on these show cattle.

At our county show in Fermanagh this year, they have started a suckler class which is more based on the potential of the herd to produce a calf per cow every year and have lots of milk to feed the calf. I think that this is a really promising idea but, in all honesty, there are very few farmers who think the same.

When I see what is happening in the Republic of Ireland, with recommendations to reduce the suckler herd, I wonder if this will encourage more farmers down the “show cattle” route. If you have to cut the number of cows that you can keep, then it would be great if you got paid more per animal.

I am not going to change my line of breeding at the moment, but if our policymakers go down the same route as the South, then I may have to reconsider.

There are already a lot of hobby farmers (in my view, too many) operating within our beef industry, and it looks like policy in the South may make more. Let’s hope we do not make the same mistakes in NI.

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