The decline of the suckler herd in the Republic of Ireland has been well documented of late. Recent data from the ICBF has shown a staggering 25% in year to date suckler calf births. However, it is not only the south of Ireland which is experiencing this phenomenon.

According to analysts in the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) beef sired calf registrations in Northern Ireland during March 2014 totalled 24,080 head bringing registrations for 2014 to date to 57,744 head. In the corresponding period in 2013 there were 62,928 beef sired calves registered. This decline by 5,184 calf registrations accounts for an 8.2% decline year on year.

The LMC also outline in a recent bulletin that this decline in beef sired calf registrations between 2013 and 2014 has followed on from declines in calf registrations between 2012 and 2013. It says in the first quarter of 2012 there were 69,443 beef sired calves registered on NI farms. This is a reduction of 16.8 per cent in beef sired calf registrations when comparing the first quarter of 2012 and the same period in 2014. According to the LMC due to the poor summer of 2012 followed by feed shortages in the first half of 2013 many suckler cows would have been in below optimum condition for breeding with reduced fertility as a result during April-June 2013. This is one potential reason for the drop in calf registrations recorded in the first quarter of 2014.

It commented while some beef producers will have opted to cull cows that failed to get in calf other producers may have retained these cows to calf later this year. With relatively strong deadweight prices available for good quality cows beef producers are more likely to aggressively cull dry cows compared to dairy producers who have the option to extend the lactation period in times of strong milk prices.

WHY? The LMC remark that the decline in suckler cow numbers combined with the decline in the number of heifers being retained for further breeding in NI can be attributed to production difficulties, increased costs of production and the volatility in the finished beef market encouraging producers to assess the scale and scope of their beef enterprise. It also highlights uncertainty over the future of the CAP support arrangements in NI will be a further factor in farmers’ minds and urgent decisions are needed that give active farmer’s confidence to maintain and grow their businesses.