Good weather across the country for the last few days has added a little more bite to the cattle trade this week.

Grass buyers are out in force after a delayed start and are hoovering up the light bullocks and heifers in marts this week.

Changes to the Area of Natural Constraint scheme (ANC) payment criteria mean that farmers now have to keep the minimum stocking rate of 0.10/LU/ha for 28 weeks as opposed to the previous retention period of seven months.

This means that there is an extra few weeks to purchase cattle to meet the conditions of the scheme.

Speaking to mart managers around the country this week, numbers have picked up again after bad weather dented numbers recently.

Kilkenny Mart had its biggest show of cattle so far in 2024 last Thursday, with 1,450 cattle moving through the ring.

Bullocks topped at €2,700, with a lot of factory feeders very hungry for forward store and factory finished cattle.

Mart managers in the west are on the hunt for weanlings, with exporter demand showing no signs of settling down.

The Sarah M is currently in Greenore Port and is due to load this week with another batch of weanlings and stores.

There have been 144,353 animals exported during the first 16 weeks of 2024. This is back 7% on 2023 levels, with calf exports being the main reason for the drop.

While the Netherlands continues to be Ireland’s largest market for calves, this is back a considerable 34% in 2024 on the back of reduced demand due to nitrates and other issues in the Netherlands.

Some 31,496 calves have been exported to Spain so far in 2024, a 10% increase 2023.

There has been a particularly strong start to the year from an international trading perspective, with several large consignments of weanling, store and adult cattle destined for Israel, Algeria and Morocco in the early months of the year.

Given the current demand for cattle in these countries, these exports are set to continue and 2024 is shaping up to be a record year for live exports.

The live trade to Northern Ireland is steady, with 15,452 cattle making the journey north so far in 2024, a 6% increase on 2023.

A further 2,010 dairy replacement females have been exported to Britain in 2024.

Taking a look at this week’s Martbids analysis table, we see that it was another big week for the bullock and heifer trade.

Bullocks in the 400kg to 500kg weight bracket fared best again this week after also making gains in the previous weeks trading.

Top-quality bullocks in the 400kg to 500kg weight bracket came in at €3.38/kg this week, with average-quality bullocks in the same weight bracket coming in at €2.87/kg.

Average-quality heifers over 600kg came in at €2.90/kg this week, with poorer-quality heifers in the 600kg-plus category up 8c to €2.64/kg.

Exporters continue to drive the weanling trade, with weanling bulls in the popular 300kg to 400kg weight bracket up 10c/kg across the board.

Top-quality weanlings in this weight bracket came in at €3.92/kg, one of the best weeks yet for weanling bulls so far in 2024.