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AHDB Pig Market Weekly

16 March 2012

AHDB UK Market Survey - 16 March 2012AHDB UK Market Survey - 16 March 2012

The Scottish Government reported that livestock numbers in Scotland were lower year on year.


The total number of cattle and calves in England fell almost three per cent. Male cattle numbers declined four per cent which further supports expectations that beef supplies will be tight in 2012, as there will be fewer male cattle available for finishing. Reflecting the continued concerns over profitability, in both the beef and dairy sectors, and the high cull cow values encouraging culling, breeding cow numbers were also lower on the year. There were 15,000 fewer suckler cows in the herd and 42,000 fewer dairy cows.

Cattle numbers in Wales declined by almost three per cent. Both the dairy and beef herds contracted. There were increased numbers of younger dairy females in the system indicating some of these losses may be replaced. However, with the reduced number of younger beef bred female animals there is little expectation that the beef herd will recover in the short term. The number of male cattle aged 1-2 years old was lower, indicating a reduction in the availability of cattle for finishing in 2012. However, calf numbers were marginally higher than year earlier levels.

Scottish livestock numbers fall

The Scottish Government reported that livestock numbers in Scotland were lower year on year. The decline in cattle numbers was broadly in line with the UK trend; however the fall in pig numbers in Scotland was considerably higher than in other regions. Scotland was the only region of the UK to record a decline in sheep numbers as high culling rates in 2011 eroded breeding numbers.

The total number of cattle on Scottish holdings fell by almost two per cent or 32,000 head. Both beef and dairy cow numbers were lower as culling rates increased with producers taking advantage of the increased cull cow values. The number of heifers in calf for the first time fell six per cent indicating that the fall in cow numbers is indicative of a longer term decline. The number of cattle aged 1- 2 years was 6,000 head lower at 386,000 head; further indicating tight beef supplies in 2012. However the number of cattle between six months and one year old increased one per cent, indicating that there may be an increase in supply in the future.

Cow numbers increase in Northern Ireland

The results of the DARD December agricultural survey show that Northern Ireland was the only region in the UK to record an increase in the number of cows in the cattle herd. This was despite there being a marginal fall in total cattle and calf numbers. The number of dairy cows was one per cent higher at 281,000 head while beef cow numbers were three per cent higher at 269,000 head. There were also increased numbers of heifers in calf for the first time. The number of other cattle over two years old was stable on the year, while the number of animals aged between one and two years of age was seven per cent lower. However, the number of calves below six months of age was three per cent higher, indicating increased registrations in response to the larger breeding herd and better beef prices.

The total number of pigs in Northern Ireland increased two per cent to 437,000 head. Although this rise masks a three per cent decline in the female breeding herd. A seven per cent decline in sow numbers, to 23,000 head, was offset to some extent by an increase in the number of gilts in pig. The number of other pigs was two per cent higher at 395,000 head.

Northern Irish sheep numbers increased five per cent on the year to total 1.3 million head. The number of breeding females increased four per cent as ewe numbers were up four per cent and the number of tupped ewe lambs increased seven per cent. The number of other lambs under one year old was 13 per cent higher.

Cattle market trends


In week ended 10 March, with continued tight supply, the upward trend in cattle prices continued and the prime cattle average price increased on the week to 337.7p per kg. The price of R4L steers edged closer towards the 350p per kg threshold, up marginally to 346.3p per kg. R4L heifers were over a penny dearer at 344.5p per kg while the average price of R3 young bulls increased three pence on the week to 332.8p per kg. The price of -04L cull cows has strengthened almost 20 pence since the turn of the year to reach 275.5p per kg.

In week ended 14 March the liveweight prime cattle trade at GB auction markets eased on the week. Steers averaged 188.8p per kg, down a penny while heifers levelled at 192.2p per kg. The buoyant cow trade continued, driven by firm demand for quality cows from the export and domestic market. The average price for cows at auction increased over a penny on the week to 133.4p per kg.

Estimated slaughterings

AHDB estimated GB prime cattle slaughterings in week ended 10 March were at a similar level to the week earlier at 34,000 head. However, continuing the trend so far in 2012, this was four per cent lower than in the corresponding week last year. Cull cow throughputs were estimated to be 8,300 head in the latest week, 18 per cent lower year on year. In the year to date cow slaughterings are estimated to be down 15 per cent.


According to the latest Kantar Worldpanel data in the 12 week period ending 19 February 2012, household purchases of fresh and frozen beef declined seven per cent on the year to 73,700 tonnes. Expenditure increased four per cent to £498 million, as increased retail prices offset the lower volume that was purchased. The decline in the volume of beef purchased as a result of price promotions continued to be evident. Household purchases of most beef cuts were lower than in the corresponding 12 week period last year. The increase in the average price of beef in recent months has encouraged shoppers to switch to cheaper roasting joint alternatives, and as a result, sales of first quality roasting joints were down 21 per cent on the year.

However, in the four-week period, household purchases of cheaper, more versatile cuts increased on the year, sales of stewing beef and mince increased 12 and 3 per cent respectively.

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