National beef and dairy cow numbers have stabilised for the first time in more than a decade, according to the latest beef market outlook from EBLEX.


The 2010 June Agricultural Census showed a year-on-year decline of less than 0.5% in the UK dairy herd, alongside an increase of nearly three percent in beef breeding cow numbers.

This appears to bring to an end the decline in numbers seen in recent years. On this basis, the overall national cattle breeding herd is expected to stabilise at just over 1.9 million head in 2011 – or 80% of its level at the start of the century.

EBLEX, however, forecasts that prime cattle slaughterings will continue falling over the coming year. This is mainly due to reduced pure-bred dairy bull calf registrations as a result of declining intensive rearing demand in the face of the high cereal and bedding prices seen this winter and expected to continue through 2011.

Beef production over the past year was noticeably higher than 2009, as finishers took stock to generally higher slaughter weights in an attempt to offset relatively high purchased store cattle costs.

With high cereal-based feed costs providing a major disincentive to this practice, average carcase weights are forecast to go down. Combined with lower slaughterings, this is likely to lead prime beef production to fall back again, particularly in the second half.

The stabilisation in the national breeding herd is predicted to lead to a much more substantial decline in cow and adult bull slaughterings for the food chain in 2011, further reducing overall national production.

Imported fresh and frozen beef volumes are not expected to change much over the year as restricted production makes additional supplies from exporters like Ireland, The Netherlands and Uruguay unlikely. Lower UK supplies are, however, forecast to lead to a slight increase in imports of processed beef.

Firm demand for fresh and frozen beef from the continent, as well as a growing number of new markets, is predicted to keep export demand competitive. Chilled boneless beef is forecast to continue increasing its share of shipments, and exports of key cuts and selected offals are also expected to rise if focused EBLEX marketing activities can be increased.