Cow market breaks out of its herd mentality
Finally, the doors open, and the trucks slowly enter the marketplace in single file. Fumigants are sprayed from above; the farmers unload their livestock and sort them by category and age.
The market opens once every five days. Despite the early hour, the 0.65-hectare (1.6-acre) facility is crowded ― with humans, that is. Above the bellowing and lowing is the chatter of farmers, market dealers and livestock cooperative officials.
“Come on, raise the price by 100,000 won ($105). I need to pay for the feed,” a farmer wails. When the sales start, a 64-year-old dealer in a yellow vest, Lee Jeong-hae, calls over a veterinarian to check whether a cow is pregnant. The veterinarian confirms that she is three months along. The dealer checks the cow’s health examination card and hands it to a buyer. A cow and a its calf can fetch 6.9 million won as a package.
“If a cow is three months pregnant, her price increases by 500,000 won,” Mr. Lee said. If a cow is eight months or more pregnant, she will fetch about 3.2 million won. The cattle wear yellow tags on their ear, marked with their origins, bloodlines and dates of birth. Dealers work the crowd, earning commissions of 10,000 to 20,000 won per sale. By 8:30 a.m., the market is nearly empty. Sixty cows of the 100 delivered that day have been sold. An official of a cooperative sounds pleased. “A similar cow cost 200,000 won more today than five days ago,” he observed.
Most cows sold at this market were raised in Oedong-eup, on the border between Gyeongju and Ulsan. In the area, about 7,800 cows are being bred by 80 farmers. Gyeongju has the biggest concentration of cattle breeders in Korea, and Oedong-eup is the center of the center.
Farmers here have been working to improve their breeds, a co-op official said. The National Agricultural Cooperative Federation provides sperm for the farmers to artificially inseminate their cows, and farmers ruthlessly cull breeding cows that do not produce superior offspring. That requires some patience, farmers say; the results of their breeding efforts, favorable or not, often do not show up until the third generation. If a cow proves to be a good breeder, she will probably give birth to at least five calves.
“We have upgraded the quality of our beef and don’t worry about the import of American beef,” said Lee Su-hyeon, a 57-year-old farmer in Oedong-eup. Although Americans and Australians, in particular, gulp at the prices being demanded for imported beef and the astronomical prices Korean beef fetches in Korean supermarkets, Mr. Lee’s confidence is probably not misplaced.
by Song Yee-ho