Beef slaughter weights down across the board
Department figures reveal impact of dairy expansion and summer drought on the national kill
Average slaughter weights for most cattle are well back this year compared to 2017, confirming the growing impact of increased dairy numbers on the beef sector.
Department of Agriculture figures seen by this paper show that average slaughter weights for the first 11 months of 2018 were lower than the previous year for bullocks, heifers, cows and aged bulls, with only young bulls seeing an increase.
Bullock weights at slaughter have fallen this year by 4.4kg/hd to an average of 348.6kg/hd. Heifer weights are back on average to 308.7kg, a decline of 2.2kg/hd. The average slaughter weight of cull cows dropped 7.7kg to 304.4kg.
Aged bulls, which as a category include stock bulls and any young bulls who went over 24 months, fell 16.3kg to average 433.2kg in 2018. While significant, this category accounts for just 2.5pc of the overall kill.
Young bulls were the only category to buck the downward trend, with the average slaughter weight rising by 3.7pc to 365.2kg.
The higher young bull weights could be due to the shortage of grass this summer as a result of the drought, with finishers forced to feed more meals as a consequence.
This contention is supported by the increased percentage of animals that graded U and E so far this year, which were up 2.6pc and accounted for more than 40pc of the total young bull kill.
In contrast to the improved performance of young bulls, a greater proportion of steers, heifers and cows graded P this year.
Up to the end of November, the percentage of steers grading P stood at 14.9pc, up 2.1pc on 2017 figures.
P grades increased by 0.6pc to 5.1pc among the heifers, while the proportion of P-grade cows rose by 4.7pc to 57.4pc.
The percentage of steers, heifers and cows grading R fell significantly. R grades were back 3pc to 29.8pc among the steers, with R grades falling 2.4pc to 44.4pc among heifers.
The ratio of R-grade cows fell 2pc to 11.7pc.
The fall-off in R grades in both bullocks and heifers was mirrored by a rise in O grades of 1.1pc among bullocks to 46.3pc, and 1.5pc on the heifer side to 36pc.
The proportion of O-grade cows, however, fell back 2.4pc to 29pc of the cow kill.
The share of cows grading either fat score 4H or 5 grew from a combined 10.2pc in 2017 to 12.2pc in the first 11 months of this year.
Overall, these figures reflect the increased influence of the expanding dairy herd on the national cattle kill.
However, the fall in weights among both steers and heifers is less than some might have anticipated and suggests that young bulls were not the only stock that received additional ration this summer.
Some industry commentators have also contended that the drop in carcass weights has helped offset the impact of increased slaughter numbers this back-end, with the weekly kill well up this year and holding close to the 40,000-mark for the last five weeks.
Meanwhile, Irish beef exports to China for the first eight months of 2018 were valued at just €432,000. Figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show that Irish beef exports to China stood at 260 tonnes by the end of August 2018,
Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said he is “reasonably” happy with the level of beef exports to date.
China lifted its ban on Irish beef in 2015, but it was only in April of this year that the first shipments of Irish beef went to China, making Ireland first European country to gain access to the giant Asian market.