- news, features, articles and disease information for the beef industry


What Impacts Cow Herd Population?

30 October 2013

UK - Heavy snows and forage shortages last spring affected cow numbers on some farms, but the impact is small against a long term decrease that has been going for decades.

Debbie Butcher, senior market analyst at the English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX) told TheCattleSite that the fundamentals in the industry have not changed much compared to previous years.

Instead, it is a longer term issue of profitability and industry confidence that is having the greatest impact on the size of the nation’s herd.

Mrs Butcher said: “The movement away from coupled payments and the impact of several diseases have contributed over time to a decline in the breeding herds as confidence has taken a knock.”

EBLEX reports highlight a marked in beef cow numbers, dropping from just over 2 million head in 2005, falling to 1.8 million in June this year.

She explained that, with no increase in herd size, there is a limit to what farmers can do with productivity and that, in the absence of any expansion, supplies will remain tighter and the amount of domestic beef produced will be limited.

And while there are fewer cattle being slaughtered in England this year, Mrs Butcher explained that this is dictated by what happened three years ago.

“The beef industry is a slow burner,” said Mrs Butcher, adding that lower calf registrations through 2013 are a reflection of factors limiting cow numbers three years earlier.

As the herd contracts, Mrs Butcher urged that costs need to be controlled, which will dictate where profits and losses are seen, as in any year.

This is also the case in Northern Ireland, where the same late spring and poor forage summer contributed to a three per cent drop in suckler cows year on year to 270,100.

This, according to a Livestock and Meat Commission expert, is mainly affected by farm costs, although adverse weather was listed second.

“The major problems besetting the Northern Ireland’s beef industry is the current high costs of beef production due to high input costs, the influence the weather has on production practices from one year to the next, the efficiency of production systems currently in operation and restricted access to third country markets,” said Livestock and Meat Commission analyst, Seamus McMenamin.

However, farmers are expected to start winter better positioned than the last two years, added Mrs Butcher, citing lower fed patterns and better forage availability as factors, which should lift slightly lift feed concerns for many.

Michael Priestley

Michael Priestley
News Team - Editor

Mainly production and market stories on ruminants sector. Works closely with sustainability consultants at FAI Farms


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