Prime cattle throughput in Northern Ireland during 2019 totalled 344,671 head, according to the Livestock and Meat Commission who said this was a slightly stronger throughput than previous forecasts had expected.
It said that some changes in the levels of imports and exports for direct slaughter, combined with changes to the type of prime cattle being killed locally, have resulted in this higher than expected prime cattle kill.
“The relatively good production conditions on NI farms during summer 2019 and into the autumn will have helped improve cattle performance which may also have contributed to the higher throughput.”
“The stronger than expected cattle kill during 2019, particularly in the second half of the year, has contributed to the decline in the number of cattle available for slaughter on NI farms as we move into 2020.”
At the end of December 2019, there were 72,589 cattle for beef production aged between 24-30 months on NI farms, back 4.2 per cent from year earlier levels. In addition, there were 194,899 cattle for beef production on NI farms aged between 18-24 months, back 5.2 per cent from 2019 levels.
“Beef cattle in these two age groups will provide the bulk of prime cattle throughput in local plants during the first half of 2020.”
The combined number of cattle in these age groups is 4.9% lower than the same period in 2019.
Due to this reduction in beef cattle numbers on NI farms, the prime cattle kill in NI is forecast to be back by approximately 8,500 head or five per cent during the first half of the year when compared to 2019 levels, the equivalent of about one week’s total kill.
The LMC said that as we move into the second half of 2020, supplies of prime cattle for slaughter are forecast to show some signs of improvement, particularly in the final quarter.
“The most recent forecast indicates throughput will be two per cent lower than the second half of 2019. Cattle in the 12-18-month age range at the end of December 2019 will provide the bulk of the prime cattle throughput in the second half of 2020.”
At the end of December, there were 127,023 prime cattle on the ground in this age range; this was back marginally from December 2018 levels but 6.3 per cent lower than December 2017 levels.
“Overall, the prime cattle kill in NI for 2020 is forecast to be in the region of 332,000 head, back 3.7 per cent from 2019 levels.”
“This forecast is subject to a number of assumptions including current levels of cattle imports and exports for direct slaughter continuing at similar levels.”
Longer term outlook
The LMC pointed out that some recovery in beef-sired calf registrations to both suckler and dairy cows during the second half of 2019 have helped to increase the number of cattle for beef production on NI farms in the 0-6-month age bracket.
At the end of December 2019, there were 112,371 cattle in this age group, up 6.1 per cent from December 2018 levels.
“While DAERA has not published official figures on cow numbers on farms, analysis of APHIS population data has indicated a continued decline in suckler cow numbers.”
At the end of December 2019, there were 280,485 beef sired female cattle on NI farms aged over 30 months, back three per cent from the 289,739 head recorded in December 2018.
The number of female dairy cattle over 30 months on NI farms has also recorded a decline, back by three per cent to 293,337 at the end of December 2019.