Calf decline a worry for meat processors

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Meat processors and retailers in the cattle business faced some pretty gloomy news yesterday with the latest update on GB calf registrations from the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) revealing a decline of 5 per cent since the start of the year.

“With 2012 calvings little changed from 2011, and in fact lower in the second half of the year, the continued decline in the first half of 2013 leads to the conclusion that GB cattle supplies will not increase any time soon,” commented Stuart Ashworth of Quality Meat Scotland.

He added that the quantity of beef available on the market could also be influenced significantly by carcase weights. But 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.

“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,” he said

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 per cent lower than last year, the first decline for many months, but they are 5 per cent 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,” said Ashworth. “However, the weather-induced earlier culling may simply mean a rescheduling of culling rather than a change in total breeding herd numbers.”

With all those shifts factored into the equation, Ashworth was not at all surprised that prime cattle prices continued to move forward. Predicting where it might go now was not straightforward, he said, as it depended on the extent had farmers delayed marketing because of slow growth rates and also to what extent would they delay sales further over the summer so as to increase carcase weights and maximise income?

Currently Scottish beef prices are 17 per cent higher than 12 months ago.

l Biofuel block – In the latest statistics from the Scottish Dairy Cattle Association (SDCA) for the first six months of 2013, dairy farm numbers were down to 1,002, a decrease of nine, and cow numbers were also down to 162,066, a decrease of 1,678 from 1 January. Whilst the number of herds is the lowest since records began in 1903, the total cow numbers are still higher than they were in 2003.

Ayrshire remained the largest dairying county with 238 farms and 33,612 milking cows. Wigtownshire, the third largest dairying county, was one of the few that increased numbers of cows but only by 150. .

SDCA secretary Janette Mathie said: “The reduction in dairy farming continues but many herds are still suffering from the effects of last year’s weather.”