Strong Recovery in Beef-Sired Calf Births Last Year

NORTHERN IRELAND, UK - According to the latest calf birth data provided by DARD, there was a sharp increase in beef-sired calf births in 2011.
calendar icon 30 January 2012
clock icon 3 minute read

Given the increased number of beef cows (+ four per cent) recorded in the June census, greater numbers of calf birth registrations were to be expected.

Nevertheless, the increase is impressive and represents a reversal in the trend of reducing calf births which was a serious concern for the sector throughout the second half of the last decade. Last year 327,400 beef-dired calf births were registered on Northern Ireland farms. This was up five per cent from 312,600 head in 2010 and 310,400 head in 2009. 2009 was in fact the nadir for beef calf production in NI as illustrated in Figure 1 below.

Beef-sired calf birth registrations had been falling steadily since the reform of the CAP in 2005 which marked the end of production linked subsidies. Producers responded accordingly, cutting back on primary beef production. The lack of profitability in suckler beef was illustrated in the Red Meat Task Force in 2007 and concerns were raised about the future of the sector.

The recent increases in beef-sired calf births may reflect a return of confidence to the sector. Farmgate prices have increased sharply in recent years and while input costs are also higher, this increase in production could be regarded as producers’ response to this price signal. Concerns about suckler beef profitability remain however, so it remains to be seen whether this increased level of production will be sustained over the longer term.

While beef-sired calf births have been on the rise, the number of male calves registered in the dairy herd have also increased. The 10 per cent increase in registrations of male dairy calves is encouraging given that the number of dairy cows on the ground only increased slightly last year. With many of these cattle finished intensively as young bulls, feed costs often have an impact on the value of this type of stock and in the past producers may not have been pre-disposed to retaining these cattle. Despite the fact that feed costs were rising rapidly in the first half of 2011, and remain high, this increase in calf registration numbers may reflect increased confidence in the dairy-beef sector.

Figure 2 illustrates how the peak month for calf birth registrations in 2011 was May, as it had been in previous years. However, in 2011, the proportion of annual calf births registered in May was higher than previous years. These increases in calf-births create the likelihood of increased availability of cattle for slaughter as we move further into the decade. However, such an increase will have little bearing in the availability of finished cattle this year given that cattle born last year will not be finished for two years on average. Cattle supplies in 2012 are expected to remain tight.

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