Farm Ireland

Friday 20 April 2018

Beef calf numbers plummet

Majella O'Sullivan

Majella O'Sullivan

THERE was a massive drop in the number of calves born to beef sires last year, new Department of Agriculture cattle movement monitoring system (CMMS) figures reveal.

Latest figures for last year published by the Department reveal that the number of calves born to beef bulls fell to 1,409,933 last year.

This represented a drop of more than 14pc from the previous year's total of 1,640,115.

Stocking rates on Irish suckler farms have fallen to their lowest levels in five years, and the latest CMMS data confirms the decline in the beef herd.

Figures released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) in December also showed a fall of 4.1pc in beef cows and a drop of 9.7pc in beef breeding heifers.

Teagasc beef expert Liam Fitzgerald said the falling numbers would have serious implications for beef farms where the stocking rate is one of the prime functions of beef output and profitability.

"It takes €500-600 to keep a suckler cow each year and, with weanling calves only making about €550/hd, the cow isn't even covering the value of the calf," Mr Fitzgerald said.

As well as the lack of profitability, Mr Fitzgerald said the age profile of farmers was the second biggest contributing factor to declining beef cow numbers.

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"It was an older population of farmers who built up numbers in the 1980s and 1990s and now they're finding that the labour and the workload is getting too much for them," he said.

Meanwhile, the CMMS figures show that Charolais remains the most popular sire choice for Ireland's beef farmers.

Charolais bulls were used on 37.7pc (383,908) beef cows. Limousin was the second most popular sire choice breed at 32.3pc, with 328,600 beef cows put in calf to the French breed.

Aberdeen Angus sires were used on 8.8pc of beef cows (89,532hd), 6.1pc of cows (62,612hd) were put in calf to Simmental bulls, the usage figure for Hereford was 4pc (41,029hd), while 5.5pc (55,690hd) were put in calf to Beligian Blue sires.

Live exports were well up last year, as expected. The total number of live cattle shipped was 286,293, an increase of 127,477 (80pc) on the previous year.

Calf exports accounted for much of this increase, with the Dutch and Belgian veal units taking far bigger numbers.

The weanling trade to Italy and Spain was also far stronger than it had been in 2008.

Cattle imports totalled 10,739hd, with 6,716 of these going directly for slaughter. Of the 4,023 bought for breeding, 3,944 came from Britain and Northern Ireland, and 75 from France and four from the Netherlands.

Disposals through the factories were steady at 1.5m head. A further 76,000 cattle were killed in abattoirs.

Irish Independent