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Irish Independent
Irish Independent
Niall Hurson Twitter

Suckler herd numbers hold steady despite national cull at 10-year high

Mart managers have seen high numbers of cows pass through the ring in recent months.

The rate of cow culling in Ireland has hit a 10-year high, up 15pc on 2021 with 311,484 slaughtered so far this year, Farming Independent analysis has shown.

Figures provided by the Department of Agriculture reveal that just 107,730 of these cows came from the suckler herd.

A spokesperson for the Department said that assuming a pro rata slaughter rate for the remainder of 2022, it looks like there will be a reduction in the slaughter of suckler cows by 7pc this year compared to last.

“The suckler population is relatively stable, declining by 3pc since 2020. Slaughter figures reduced by nearly 9pc from 2020 to 2021,” the spokesperson continued.

Annual figures released by ICBF show that the national suckler herd stood at 908,681 cows as of June 1, 2022. This was a decrease of 3.1pc on 2021 figures.

Commenting, ICBF Chief Executive Sean Coughlan said suckler cows numbers continue to be “quite resilient” and that the industry wasn’t seeing the “mass exodus” that had been previously touted.

“Bord Bia has told us the weight of cow culling is coming from the dairy herd,” Chairman of IFA National Livestock Committee Brendan Golden told the Farming Independent.

“If you have a cow not in-calf you can’t afford to keep her on the farm. You can’t afford free-loaders this year, not even on a dairy farm.”

Mr Golden described the low culling within the suckler herd as “very positive news” but warned about the struggles many farmers face as costs remain high.

“We know about the challenges and low margins, but the suckler cow is doing a hell of a job bringing in a few pound for many part-time farmers around the country.

“Overall numbers have come back over the last couple of years, mainly as a result of losing herds to dairying.”

Macroom Mart manager Jerh O’Sullivan told the Farming Independent he has seen high numbers of cows passing through the ring in recent months.

“Firstly, dairy farmers are culling harder and bringing in new genetics through in-calf heifers,” he said.

“Secondly, some suckler farmers are getting out completely. Those with 15-30 cows have been exiting over the past two years.

“The final reason for an increase in cow sales is farmers are getting a good price ringside without having to go to the factory themselves.”

ICSA general secretary Eddie Punch said that high cull cow prices have encouraged many farmers to cut out inefficiencies. “This year with some cull cows making €2,000, there has been a real incentive to tighten up your herd.”

Mr Punch also noted that high cull levels didn’t necessarily indicate “the flood gates opening” but continued to raise concerns around policy decisions within the new CAP, which comes into effect on January 1, 2023.

“In 2023, it’s a whole new ball game,” he said. “Farmers will be contracted in for another five years with a budget less than previous schemes.

“These policy decisions and escalated costs are sending a negative message to farmers.”

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