Looking to the Live Export Market

UK - Producing high quality weanlings destined for the premium continental markets is a possible option for Northern Ireland beef farmers, but this is a specialised market and has specific requirements.
calendar icon 14 February 2008
clock icon 2 minute read

Kieron Mailey, the beef and sheep development advisor from the Greenmount Campus of the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise in Northern Ireland said that since the lifting of the export ban, there have been a number of farmers who have successfully exported live weanlings direct from farm to the high value Italian market, through a local shipping agent.

Writing in the Fermanagh Herald, he says the high value Italian market is very specific in terms of cattle breed, age, weight and weanling quality and meeting these requirements can invariably result in a higher cost of production. It also means that not every farm will be suited to producing for this market. Suckler producers should review their farm enterprise, both financially and physically, to assess if it is a viable option for their business. The following is a guideline to the requirements of producing for the live weanling market in Italy.

Mr Mailey adds that cows can be pure continental, but must be at least a crossbred continental animal with Limousin, Blonde and Belgian Blue most suitable. Cow frame should be large, square and at least an R grade for carcase quality. As cows become extreme with muscle, calving and fertility problems occur, reducing productivity.

The breed and colour of calf is very specific. Buyers want calves with E or U grade conformation with the preferred breeds being Belgian Blue, Blonde, Limousin and Charolais (depending on bone content). Only bulls and heifers are suitable, steers are not desired. Acceptable weight ranges from 350kg up to 450kg and cattle must be well shaped and lean. Prices vary depending on the quality of weanlings, ranging from £1-40 to £1-60/kg.

The live weanling trade is also subject to a number of factors beyond the farmer's control. Disease regulations, currency fluctuations and delayed boats due to weather conditions can hold up the export business.

Murtagh Walls, who farms at Hilltown and runs 50 suckler cows along with 80 ewes has just exported his first batch of live weanlings this winter. The calves were 10 months old and weighed approximately 400 kg at sale. Cattle are normally taken through to beef, although occasionally some are sold as stores. Due to low finished beef prices, Murtagh feels that the live weanling market is a viable option that gives a reward for continually breeding top quality cattle.

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