“I’d like to buy a bullockeen.” That was the intent of a farmer I had a conversation with in Skibbereen mart in August 2018. Three weeks prior to chatting to that individual I had been at Roma sales yard in Queensland, Australia.
The largest sales centre down under, it’s capable of handling 14,000 head of cattle in one sale. I attended two auctions that week, a store one, with 8,000 cattle sold in six hours, and a fat cattle sale of 880 head that was finished in 75 minutes. There were 20 to 30 buyers the first day and fewer than 10 the second. They stalked the canopy-covered passageways in the dust, barely having time to lean on a gate as auctioneers on catwalks overhead sold large numbers in seconds. Bids were in c/kg and cattle were weighed after. You knew your stuff or you left with nothing. It was a professional’s game. An agent could have 50 or more cattle bought in the time it took an Irish mart goer to write the lot number on the back of his hand. It was the same sector but worlds apart.
The term “bullockeen” stuck with me. It summed up the differences in scale between us and our potential competition, if the UK-Australia trade deal comes to pass. The fact it could be 15 years before they have full tariff-free access allows time to get our act together. Their beef sector appeared more focused and united than ours.
The attitude that you can have cattle any shape, size or colour you want and keep them for however long you want generally doesn’t cut it outside of Europe. CAP cushions beef farmers here from some market driven decisions.
How would the EUROP grading system compare with top-grade cuts from Meat Standards Australia. How would an R3 grade Irish steak fare in a taste test with a five-star supreme quality steak from Australia? We might find out where British consumers preferences go over time.
With almost 80% of the beef imported into the UK being Irish, the sector is exposed to new competition, especially the major protein producers either side of the southern Pacific. Post-Brexit trade deals could have a larger on-farm impact here than the CAP talks. Trade deals are outside of my control so I can only tweak the business to be prepared for whatever becomes of it. It won’t keep me up at night anyway.
Back on home turf, breeding has got under way. The bull has been with the heifers three weeks and AI kicked off with the cows. It’s all polled again and I’m trying a few sexed semen straws on some of the pedigree cows. Temptation got the better of the other bull who was scheduled to join the younger cows in a fortnight. Wires and ditches didn’t stop him from ending up with the cull group Sunday morning. Twice.
After I had him put back to where he was meant to be, he proceeded to demonstrate how he got there in the first place. A new plan was devised and after getting him into the shed, I decided the best place for him was 10 miles away. He’s content on the out-farm now in the company of cows that calved late and for a few minutes last Sunday morning he was called a few things stronger than “bullockeen”.