12th July 2013

Calf registrations in GB down 5% since start of 2013

The latest update on GB calf registrations from the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) reveals a decline of 5% since the start of the year. The statistics for the month of May show a decline in calf registrations of 5% for GB and 2.5% for Scotland.

“With 2012 calvings little changed from 2011, and in fact lower in the second half of the year, this continued decline in the first half of 2013 leads to the conclusion that GB cattle supplies will not increase any time soon. This continued trend will not be welcome news for processors and retailers,” said Stuart Ashworth, Quality Meat Scotland Head of Economics Services.

Beef availability can be influenced significantly by carcase weights. So far this year Scottish carcases have been around 5 kg lighter than last year and across the UK as a whole carcase weights have fallen faster.

“On the one hand this is helpful in that the steaks and roasting joints will be smaller and possibly more attractive to consumers, but mince yield may be reduced depending on where on the carcase the weight is lost,” observed Mr Ashworth.

“The conundrum for the abattoir, and retail sector, is the balance between attractive sizes of steaks and roasting joints for consumers and the demand for mince and diced product along with a volume of cattle to maximise the efficiency of the slaughter and processing lines.”

A further factor influencing beef supply is the level of culling among cows and mature bulls.  Estimates of UK cow slaughterings during May were 4% lower than last year, the first decline for many months, but they are 5% higher over the year so far, and again carcase weights are much lower.

“One would like to think that this change in May could be the starting point of change towards stabilisation or increase in the breeding cow herd.  However, the weather-induced earlier culling may simply mean a rescheduling of culling rather than a change in total breeding herd numbers,” said Mr Ashworth.

“Unsurprisingly, then, prime cattle prices continue to move forward, although the pace of movement has slowed.  However, the short-term question becomes ‘to what extent have farmers delayed marketings because of slow growth rates?’. Additionally, ‘to what extent will they delay sales further over the summer so as to increase carcase weights and maximise income?’.

“In other words, in the short term will beef supplies, if not animal numbers, increase as autumn approaches and before housing is necessary?”

However, while Scottish beef prices are 17% higher than 12 months ago, because of the strength of sterling last year and the weakness of sterling this year, when quoted in Euro the price is 8% higher. This is very similar to the level of farm gate price increase in Ireland and France but much better than the decline of 5% seen in Germany.

“So although our prices are affected by supplies, they are also affected by exchange rates,” emphasized Mr Ashworth.

“If beef supplies are tight in the UK, one place a manufacturer or retailer would look for supply is Ireland and in fact our prices have moved at the same rate as prices in Ireland in the common currency of the Euro.

“Like the sheep farmer, the beef farmer is also perhaps listening nervously to the statements of the Governor of the Bank of England!”

Sign up for the latest news and views