Suckler numbers reflect decline in beef sector

A decline in the UK suckler herd reflects greater farmer optimism in dairy versus beef, according to a leading Bord Bia business analyst.

Eoin Kelly notes that this suckler decline is resulting in tighter supplies and lower domestic beef production. “The suckler herd in the UK has now fallen by nearly 88,000 head in the past three years,” he said.

“Over time, this has resulted in tighter supplies and lower domestic beef production. However, the increase in dairy cow numbers is reflective of the optimism within the dairy sector ahead of quota removal in 2015.”

He said the decline in the UK suckler herd contrasts with the total bovine population in the UK, which has remained relatively unchanged at just over 9.8m up to June 2014 versus 2013 figures, according to Defra’s latest estimates for livestock populations.

“While the breeding herd showed some modest growth, there was a contrast between dairy and non-dairy herds. The UK’s dairy herd was up 3% to 1.83m head, while the beef herd continued its decline of recent years, falling by 2% to 1.58m head.”

The results highlight that the number of two-year-old cattle on the ground has risen. Male cattle numbers in this category were up almost 10%, or 37,000 head. Similarly, the number of other female beef cattle under two in June was also higher compared to a year earlier, up 4%, or 27,000 head.

“Fewer younger cattle on the ground, combined with a declining breeding population, would suggest a continuing decline in the supply of prime cattle in the longer term. Any turnaround is unlikely before 2016 due to length of the production cycle.”


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