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National Cattle Breeding Herd Stabilises

25 February 2011


Latest official data suggest a stabilisation in the national dairy as well as beef herd, bringing to an end the progressive annual decline in UK breeding cow numbers recorded for more than a decade, according to the latest beef market outlook from EBLEX, the industry body for beef and lamb levy payers.

The 2010 June Agricultural Census showed a year-on-year decline of less than 0.5 per cent in the UK dairy herd alongside an increase of nearly three percent in beef breeding cow numbers. On this basis, the overall national cattle breeding herd is expected to stabilise at just over 1.9 million head in 2011 – or some 80 per cent of its level at the start of the century.

EBLEX, however, forecasts that prime cattle slaughterings will continue falling over the coming year. This is mainly due to reduced pure-bred dairy bull calf registrations as a result of declining intensive rearing demand in the face of the high cereal and bedding prices seen this winter and expected to continue through 2011.

Beef production over the past year was noticeably higher than 2009 as finishers took stock to generally higher slaughter weights in an attempt to offset relatively high purchased store cattle costs. With high cereal-based feed costs providing a major disincentive to this practice, average carcase weights are forecast to fall back again. Combined with lower slaughterings, this is likely to lead prime beef production to fall back again, particularly in the second half.

The stabilisation in the national breeding herd is predicted to lead to a very much more substantial decline in cow and adult bull slaughterings for the food chain in 2011, further reducing overall national production.

Imported fresh and frozen beef volumes are not expected to change much over the year as restricted production makes additional supplies from exporters like Ireland, the Netherlands and Uruguay unlikely. Lower UK supplies are, however, forecast to lead to a slight increase in imports of processed beef.

Firm demand for fresh and frozen beef from the continent as well as a growing number of new markets is predicted to keep export demand competitive. Chilled boneless beef is forecast to continue increasing its share of shipments, and exports of key cuts and selected offals are also expected to rise if focused EBLEX marketing activities can be increased.

UK Beef Market Figures (tonnes)

  2008 2009 2010 (Estimate) 2011 (Forecast)
Production 862,000 833,000 908,000 885,000
Imports * 476,000 404,000 380,000 388,000
Exports * 99,000 105,000 134,000 134,000
Consumption * 1,239,000 1,132,000 1,154,000 1,139,000
* Including processed meat products

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