Preliminary Census Shows Cow Number Drop

UK - There are fewer cows in Northern Ireland now than a year ago due to forced culling after poor weather lowered fertility rates, the Livestock and Meat Commission(LMC) has reported.
calendar icon 10 September 2013
clock icon 3 minute read

The Northern Ireland agricultural census has preliminary data that shows a three per cent drop in suckler cow numbers and a 13,000 rise in cow culling as key changes between June 2012 and June 2013. 

The census has recorded a two per cent decline in total cattle numbers between June 2012 and June 2013 with the number of beef cows recorded declining from 279,200 in June 2012 to 270,100 in June 2013, write analysts at LMC.

This decline by 9,100 cows represents a three per cent contraction in suckler cow numbers year on year.

The number of dairy cows declined by two per cent over the same period with the numbers recorded
back 5,900 head. These figures are not surprising given the number of cows being slaughtered in NI plants.

In the 52 weeks ending the 29 June 2013 101,102 cows were slaughtered compared to 88,981 cows slaughtered in the previous 52 week period. This accounts for an additional 12,121 cows (+13.6 per cent).

It is likely that this increase in throughput can be attributed to the poor weather last year affecting cow fertility and producers opting to cull unproductive stock. The number of heifers in calf entering the suckler herd has also shown a decline, back from 40,900 in June 2012 to 36,700 in June 2013, a ten per cent reduction over the year.

The majority of this decline has been in the number of heifers over two years old in calf with their first calf, back by 16 per cent year on year with the number of heifers in calf under two years of age only back two per cent to 16,100 in June 2013. This may be an indication that producers are moving towards calving heifers down earlier with heifers less than two years accounting for 44 per cent of the total number of in calf heifers in June 2013 compared to 40 per cent in June 2012.

During the same period however there was a three per cent decline in the number of heifers on NI farms aged between 1 and 2 years intended for breeding but not yet in calf. The number of females in this age range intended for slaughter increased by nine per cent year on year. The number of cattle over two years old intended for beef production (all males and females for slaughter) was back 1.8 per cent between June 2012 and June 2013.

There was however a five per cent increase in the number of beef cattle aged 1-2 years between the two periods, With calf registrations during the first half of 2013 running well behind 2012 levels the number of animals aged less than six months in the June census was back nine per cent year on year.

The number of male calves was back ten per cent year on year while the number of heifer calves was
back seven per cent. This trend is perhaps unsurprising given the contraction in cow numbers in both the dairy and suckler herds indicated in the census results.

This will have reduced the number of calves on the ground and the increase in the number of dairy sired males exported to the continent in 2013 compared to 2012 will also have pushed the decline.

The preliminary census results have also indicated a two per cent decline in the total sheep flock between June 2012 and June 2013. The total number of ewes on NI farms in June put to the ram the previous year was back 2 per cent from 806,100 to 790,200.

Meanwhile the number of other female sheep intended for breeding increased by two per cent to 134,200 in June 2013. This increase is likely to be due to ewe lambs failing to reach target breeding weights last autumn due to poor production conditions in Summer 2012 and then carried as dry stock for breeding for the first time in Summer/Autumn 2013.

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