With the 2021 breeding season just around the corner, there appears to be a new air of optimism in the Irish suckler sector.

A very good weanling trade last autumn has given farmers the confidence to go out and invest in breeding stock and with numbers of suckler replacement heifers rising, there is reason for some optimism for the future of the suckler cow.

We have also seen a huge rise in demand for show heifers for breeding. Record prices have been paid for U and E grade heifers over the last few months and if a “roan” heifer with the shapes lands in a mart, the sky is the limit with €2,000 to €3,000 being paid on a regular basis for heifers to bull. While I don’t want to talk down the trade, I think some may need a little rain check.

The in-calf heifer trade has been flying high for a few years and more and more players are dipping their toe in the water hoping to hit the big time at a sale next autumn for show-type heifers. Paying €2,000 to €3,000 for a breeding heifer will mean she has to be closer to €2,500 to €3,500 this time next year to leave money.

In many cases, it isn’t commercial farmers who are paying this money so traders need to be careful not to get stuck on the roundabout with an oversupply in the market.

It’s great for some to get rewarded for good stock but we shouldn’t lose sight of what a profitable cow does. It’s not centred on Caesarean sections. She should have milk, be easy-fed, be fertile and be capable of breeding a U grade calf.

There are plenty of heifers being sold closer to €1,000/head that will do this job and might have a better chance of leaving money behind them.

In this week’s breeding Focus, we take a look at the ICBF active bull lists this spring with Declan Marren going into detail on some of the top bulls on the list.

Kieran Mailey takes a look at some top tips for getting ready for the breeding season.

We also examine where suckler cow numbers are going and what counties are losing suckler cows.