Sep 2018 Market Overview

Lower GB calf registrations in 2018 point to tighter beef supply ahead

Now that the peak beef calving period is over, data made available by British Cattle Movement Service makes it possible to see how calving this year has gone, and consider what the implication might be for future cattle availability.
In the first seven months of the year, 1.75 million cattle births have been registered in Great Britain, a 1% decline on the same period in 2017. There was a 2% increase in the numbers of dairy female registrations at 260,000 head, the vast majority of these might be expected to serve as replacements in the UK dairy herd.


Prime beef supply would typically come from the other three groups, dairy males and beef cattle of both sexes, although of course some female beef types will also become replacements. Calvings of dairy males were 3% lower in the year to July at 173,000 head. 651,000 beef females (-1%) and 670,000 beef males (-1.5%) were registered in the same period. Together these mean around 20,500 fewer animals, either as supply or beef replacements were registered in the GB region so far this year.

However, registrations are only a part of the story. The long-wet winter gave rise to difficulties at calving time as well as lambing, and unfortunately losses on farm appear to have been higher than last year. BCMS data indicates that cow mortality on farm (females over thirty months of age), some of which may be due to complications at calving, were higher year on year. Combining dairy males and beef animals of both sexes, there was higher calf mortality (cattle under 12 months of age) after registration on farm than in Jan- Jul 2017.

Considering the increased cow slaughter in the UK so far compared to last year, the lower number of registrations and higher calf and cow mortality, prime cattle supply in 2019 and 2020 is likely to be diminished. It is also likely that the breeding herd will contract slightly, which could reduce cow supply beyond 2020. By how much will depend on whether farmers prioritise maintenance of their herd sizes over beef production.

AHDB will be publishing its next outlook for the UK beef sector in late October.


In July, the volume of sheep meat imported to the UK increased by over a third compared to a year earlier, reflecting strong growth in shipments from New Zealand. Overall, 8,000 tonnes of sheep meat were imported during the month.
The recent higher import levels likely follow from lower UK production volumes, with mutton and lamb lambsproduction down 5% on 2017 levels for the year to July. UK lamb prices had also been elevated throughout April-June, encouraging the purchase of more price competitive imported product, although in New Zealand prices have also been higher than average.
Shipments from New Zealand were up almost 45% on July 2017 levels during the month, at 5,200 tonnes. Volumes from this key supplier were also significantly higher in June, with this recent growth trend supported by an uptick in production, compared to year earlier levels, from April onwards. As such, the New Zealand share of the UK sheep meat import market increased by three percentage points year-on-year, to 65% during the month.

The HMRC figures also indicate around 600 tonnes was shipped from the Netherlands during July, 500 tonnes more than in the month last year, although Dutch import volumes can be highly variable.
In contrast, imports from Ireland bucked the overall trend and declined 24% compared to July 2017, to under 600 tonnes. This has been a trend seen throughout much of 2018, and likely reflects falling Irish production levels from March onwards, meaning less has been available to export.
Nonetheless, with lower imports early this year, across the first seven months of 2018 overall UK sheep meat imports are therefore 1% down on year earlier levels, at 53,100 tonnes.

According to HMRC, sheep meat exports fell by almost a quarter compared to 2017 levels during July, with the reported total standing at 5,500 tonnes. Lower production levels have likely limited supply availability, and while UK prices did fall back in July, volumes may still have been limited by high farmgate prices in previous months. More recently, lamb throughputs have started to pick up again, and prices have returned to more normal levels. As such, the outlook for the export market may now be more positive, at least in the short term.

Download the Sep 2018 Market Report as a PDF file