Heifers account for largest proportion of prime slaughter on record

Thursday, 8 October 2020

By Felicity Rusk

Historically, heifers have made up around 37% of total prime slaughter in Great Britain. However in the last two years, we have seen the heifer slaughter proportion increase. This is through a combination of both lower throughputs of males (steers and young bulls) and a rise in the number of heifers.

So far this year (Jan to Aug), 545,000 prime heifers have been slaughtered. This is the highest throughput for this period since 2006, and made up 41% of overall British prime slaughter. This is the highest share for this period since the records began in 1985.

There are probably a couple of factors behind this rise.

Firstly, over the last couple of years, the beef suckler herd has continued to contract. At December 2019, there were 1.47 million females aged two years and over in the beef breeding herd. This is 4.5% less than the same point in just two years previous, the equivalent to almost 70,000 cattle. A decline in the breeding herd means that fewer heifers are needed as replacements.

Secondly, over the last couple of years, there has been a significant shift in the type of semen used in dairy inseminations, with a noticeable shift to the use of sexed semen. In the year ending March 2020, over 50% of the semen purchased was sexed, up from 32% in the previous year.

In the year ending March 2020, beef semen accounted for nearly 48% of all semen sales, up from 40% in 2018. This means we are seeing increasing numbers of dairy cows producing beef type calves.

As a result, there has been a significant reduction in the number of dairy bull calves being born in particular. The majority of dairy bulls are reared for beef production, therefore the reduction in the numbers being born over the last few years may also explain the lower throughput of prime male animals. This then contributes to the higher share that are female.

Looking forward, we expect that the beef suckler herd will continue to decline. Furthermore, with increasing scrutiny and rules coming in around dairy bull calves, it is likely that heifers will continue to make up a larger proportion of British prime slaughter.

Felicity Rusk

Analyst - Livestock

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