The time to face more farm realities has come and gone, our lovely calves have left the farm to an unknown destination. It has gone full circle, we now need to scan our cows and check who is in calf. We know that Oprah will be calving around the 5th of May next year, but the others are still in question.
The weanling calves were fattened up a bit before a tour to the mart, a bit of extra feed they didn’t have to share with the cows. Apart from that they spent evening to morning with their dams. They still take a bit of milk, but there’s not much left to be honest and most of their diet is the same as the cows.
The mart is as always, a bit or a roll of the dice, although you will get a good idea what the prices are. It is hard to gauge, you will find plenty of pure stock buyers and sometimes not that many farmers. The market of course also depends on the time of the year.
We were probably a bit late with our sales, while our calves got a chance to bulk up a bit, it is slightly out of season for farmers in terms of filling up in stock. Our cattle are outdoors, while most beef cattle will be put in for the winter to avoid losing their bulk. While this makes more commercial sense, we are happy enough for ours to be outdoors as not only does this facilitate our work, but is a more natural state for the cattle.
It is still not hassle free, even in Ireland there is a shortage of grass this time of the year. The fields still look green, but the grass is short and sparse. Our cattle get a supplement of silage, which are large round bales of wet or damp cut grass wrapped in plastic. It doesn’t rot but rather has a slightly fermented smell to it and is often warm at its core.
Cows and calves together would go through one bale in 3-4 days, while the cows alone stretch it out to about a week. This is another aspect of farming, the break even and profit margin. Do you keep calves over the winter and hope for better prices? Will the higher price cover or eat up the cost of supplemented feed? Would you keep a calf ,the right calf, raise it and hope it gives good stock in the future?
These questions do batter my city girl sensibilities, but are of course part of farming reality. It is also a great learning experience to look at your food in the eye, to consider the quality of their lives, to make choices about what you eat.
So my four beautiful calves went to the Ennis mart on a Tuesday, but no joy, the prices weren’t good enough. They were sold las Saturday in the Sixmilebridge mart, at prices that were marginally higher. But again, the calculation of feed and time settled the sale. There was no point bringing them back, hoping to sell them privately, feeding them, but still having them loose bodyweight in the cold temperatures of the season.
As said, the prices are always hard to gauge. Funnily enough the lighter bull, 270 kg, went for a higher price than the heavier one, 300 kg. It could be the colour, the shape, the similarity to other bulls bought by the beef buyer or farmer. My girls, the heifers, went cheaper than the bulls, which is something I need to look into as they both were better quality stock. At the end of the day though, bulls carry more weight than heifers once they are bulked up properly.
When the calves were leaving in the farm and I could see them placidly munching away at the hay in the trailer, I did feel regret. I thought back at the effort Goldie’s birth was (read “A life or death situation”), and how happy I was at the easy arrival of the others. A farmer in the mart looked at me and noted that these calves were right pets and very placid. He laughed when I agreed and said it would be all fine once I had the check in hand. Not really true for me, I have to say.
Since I’m not planning on becoming a vegetarian, I can take pride in the care my calves got. I also thought back on my childhood in Africa, where cattle are protected, loved, cared for and eaten with a natural attachment and detachment that the modern world has lost. Cattle is food, fortune and status in Africa, where one aspect doesn’t diminish the other. You enjoy your status, use your fortune and eat your food.
Now is the quiet time until the new arrivals next spring. Better enjoy it while we can.