Farm Ireland

Thursday 14 December 2017

Production of bull beef has lost its sheen

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

After explosive growth over the past seven years, it looks like bull beef production has peaked.

Rising meal costs, valuable Friesian calves and disastrous grazing conditions have already put a lot of producers off the idea.

But the main driver of change is one that is only beginning to emerge. The unique selling point of Irish beef in all of our high-priced markets is the fact that steer beef has extra marbling and the high-price cuts fit the tray sizes and price-points that supermarket outlets require.

While weather and concentrate costs may change from one year to the next, customer specifications are unlikely to change to suit Irish producers.


That's why there is a 20pc discount on bull striploins compared to steer ones at the moment.

In addition, Continental customers claim that if they wanted extra bull beef, they can source it cheaper elsewhere in Europe.

The exception is Britain, but it is only interested in bulls that are less than 16 months of age. Up to 90pc of our bulls are finished older than this because it is the best way for farmers to maximise returns.

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And why don't our factories find new outlets for this beef? It appears that after working so hard to develop these high-priced markets in Britain and Europe for steer beef, our processors are worried about jeopardising these outlets for new ones that are more likely to come and go.

So while other countries, such as France and Germany pile into the highest paying markets such as Turkey, Irish processors are content to stick to the knitting and keep supplies targeted at existing customers.

It suits beef processors to sell as much bull beef as they can for now, even if they are incurring an ever increasing number of complaints for doing so.

This is simply because they don't have options -- cattle supplies at the factories are at record lows.

But when 330,000 extra cattle start coming on stream from next January, farmers with bulls for sale could be in for a nasty surprise.

They might have 40pc better daily liveweight gains compared to steers, but will it be worth the hassle and a 40c/kg discount?

It will probably continue to make sense for the big feedlots that have always specialised in this system.

But the smaller operator, who is already creaking under the level of management that the system requires, is open to persuasion.

Regardless of the number of trials at Grange or Dawn, the days of the grass-reliant bull-beef producer may be numbered.

Indo Farming