The performance of beef herds in Wales improved during 2020 with progress made in productivity levels. However, more work can be done to achieve ultimate efficiency and profitability according to Wales' meat promotion body.

British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) data shows that the average calving interval for beef dams in Wales during 2020 was 427.3 days – 7.7 days shorter than the average back in 2010. Despite the positive progress seen over the last decade, further improvement is needed to reach the industry’s ideal goal of 365-days between calvings.

Another measurable key indicator for herd performance is the average age at first calving. In 2020, this was 994 days (or 33.1 months) in Wales – a vast improvement when compared to 2019 (19 days younger) and 2010 (54 days younger). The industry ambition is to reach 24 months (or 730 days).

Glesni Phillips, data analyst at Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) has analysed this data in a new Market Bulletin and considered how it affects profitability. She said: “Beef producers in Wales have made good progress in recent years to increase the profitability and sustainability of their herds.

“But there’s room for improvement. The Farm Business Survey recently published the cost of production figures for the 2019/20 financial year, and they suggest that the focus should be on lowering costs in order to maximise the profitability of beef herds in Wales. This applies to the top third performers, the average performers and the bottom third performers, who had similar market returns, despite their varying production levels.”

Prime cattle farmgate prices have been strong so far this year due to a tight supply, high consumer demand and changes in trade patterns as a result of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.

During the latest week ending 25 September, the average steer deadweight price in England and Wales stood 46.8p above year-earlier levels at 409.8p/kg. Steers have been experiencing week-on-week price increases since mid-June, with both heifers and young bulls also recording strong prices when compared to historical averages.

Ms Phillips added: “Producers have received above-average prices for their beef cattle this year, but there is no guarantee that this trend will continue. There are so many factors beyond our control that lead to market volatility, as outlined in our recently published report – ‘Beef Supply: Update and Outlook’.

“However, we can be certain that increasing the performance of the herd at farm level will improve efficiency and potentially, its profitability, whatever the going rate at livestock markets across the country. It will also make a positive contribution towards environmental sustainability.

“Improving the productivity of the herd would help to reduce overall costings and labour, giving the producer greater control. Increased efficiency would ensure a continual supply of beef animals from the suckler herd, despite the declining pattern of breeding cow numbers in Wales. Additionally, increasing the number of calves born during a beef dam’s lifetime would contribute towards the sustainability of beef production in Wales.”

To read the analysis in full, download the Market Bulletin from the HCC website:

To ‘Beef Supply: Update and Outlook’ report is also available to read on the website: