Beef Industry Review: January

By Claire Mc Cormack and Niall Claffey

It started on a high – a kill high, that is.

Almost 1.8 million cattle were slaughtered at department-approved meat exporting plants in 2018 – up more than 51,000 head on 2017 levels – the highest kill in almost two decades.

But another, more unfortunate, milestone was also reached.

The number of calves registered to beef dams (suckler cows) dropped to a 10-year low.

Data, taken from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF), found that 880,000 calves were registered on suckler farms – considered a critical component and asset of the country’s rural economy – throughout 2018, a dramatic decline of 43,000 head on the previous year.

It was the first time in a long, long time that the total number of registrations dipped below 900,000 head.

While factory-gate prices resumed relatively unchanged from the pre-Christmas period, farmers with factory-fit bulls faced slaughter-date delays as the month of January progressed – leading to a backlog of bulls in the system.

As such, heavier bulls struggled in the marts. The overall trade was described as “sluggish” – with a lethargic mood shadowing over farmers ringside too.

Mid-month, Turkey – a major importer of Irish cattle in recent years – suspended live cattle imports to stabilise its own domestic beef prices and supplies.

It was unwelcomed news for the industry, which was also suddenly faced with a damning global “scientific” report that condemned human consumption of red meat – the EAT Lancet report. It sparked outrage among farming communities, with farm organisations deeming it “fake news”.

*Middle East and North Africa

Meanwhile, murmurings of beef sector supports and reviews bubbled to the surface.

As the weeks progressed, marts geared up for a large influx of dairy-origin calves in the spring trade. While initial numbers remained low, prices for Friesian bull calves opened at €60-80/head below 2017 levels.

As January drew to a close, the much-anticipated Dairy Beef Index (DBI) – developed by ICBF and Teagasc – was rolled out.

The index is a breeding goal for Irish dairy and beef farmers to promote high-quality beef cattle bred from the dairy herd that are more saleable as calves and profitable at slaughter.

A quiet start…