Recent data from the Department of Agriculture’s Animal Identification and Movement (AIM) database has revealed a decline of almost 55,000 head (-2.8 per cent) in the total number of calves registered during the first nine months the year.

This is according to Joe Burke, meat division of Bord Bia in its Food Alert update this week.

“Even more significantly, registrations of beef calves declined by over 81,000 head (-6.3 per cent) during this period. Meanwhile, the number of calves born which were bred from dairy sires actually increased by more than 26,000 head (+3.9 per cent),” he outlined.

The Bord Bia expert continued: “‘The main factor contributing to the fall in beef calves is the considerable decline in Ireland’s suckler herd in comparison with previous years. “Further analysis of the data suggests that calf registrations to suckler cows have fallen by more than 65,000 (-7.5 per cent) in comparison with 2012 levels,” he noted.

So how did this decline come about?

According to Burke, part of the issue relates to higher culling rates this year, resulting in an estimated 25,000 (+18 per cent) additional suckler cows being slaughtered at meat plants.

“On-farm mortality figures were slightly higher in the early part of the year, when a few more cows were lost as a result of fodder-related difficulties.  However, the key variable that has impacted most severely on the national suckler herd has been a slow down in the number of replacement heifers being bred. For the first nine months of 2013, only 147,000 beef-bred heifers registered a calf. This represents a decline of more than 31,000 head (-18 per cent) in comparison to the same period in 2012.”

In order to maintain the national suckler herd, an annual replacement rate of 200,000 heifers calving per year is generally required, he stressed, but noted this year’s figure is likely to reach only 180,000.

Suckler herd on grass. Photo O’Gorman Photography