LMC: Tight Cattle Supplies in First Half of 2012

NORTHERN IRELAND, UK - An ongoing feature of the cattle trade in NI for the last 15 months has been very tight cattle supplies, with numbers down sharply relative to earlier levels.
calendar icon 30 July 2012
clock icon 3 minute read

The slaughter statistics for June 2012 provide further confirmation that cattle supplies remain under significant pressure in NI with processors struggling to maintain throughput. Several plants have been operating shorter working weeks in 2012 and in late June 2012 only a couple of plants killed cattle on a five-day week basis with some factories killing on only a two or three days per week. This has been driven by the tightness in cattle supplies with numbers particularly tight during June.

Table 1 clearly shows that the prime cattle kill was under significant pressure in June, with overall numbers down by 10 per cent year-on-year. This was driven to a large extent by a decline in the heifer and young bull kill while the steer kill has held up slightly better.

The heifer kill was down by 15 per cent this June compared to June 2011. This is a continuation of the trend for the year to date with the heifer kill down by 14 per cent between January and June year-on-year. This has largely been driven by an increase in the proportion of heifers retained for breeding with the obvious consequence being a decline in the number of heifers being finished for beef. The decline in the young bull kill evident in the figures for June 2012 is a continuation of the trend for reduced slaughterings compared to last year. Producers appear to have switched away from intensive bull beef production in NI, favouring steer production. The result has been a steeper decline in the bull kill (-15 per cent) compared to the steer kill, which has seen a reduction of 5 per cent The decline in the June kill was not confined to prime cattle. The cow kill which had been reasonably stable earlier in the year has started to slip with slaughter numbers down by 14 per cent in June. The kill for the yearto-date is three per cent lower compared to the same period last year.

The tightness in supplies has been a keen driver of the strong prices in the cattle trade in the last few months and contrasts with the sheep trade where the NI kill has been buoyant and prices have been under pressure year-onyear. In the first six months of the year, the NI sheep kill was up by 29 per cent when compared to the same period in 2011. This is a significant increase with an additional 33,000 lambs having been slaughtered to the end of June in NI. In June however, this increase in the kill appears to have accelerated with numbers up by 39 per cent year-on-year. This increase reflects reduced exports of NI lambs to ROI for direct slaughter, along with increased availability generally.

With factories under pressure due to reduced cattle throughput, the increased lamb kill may come as a welcome reprieve for those factories processing sheep given that it may help offset some of those higher unit costs associated with reduced throughput on the cattle side.

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