The 2020 beef kill will finish over 40,000 head higher than the 2019 kill. At the beginning of 2020, there were some forecasting the kill to be down in the region of 40,000 to 50,000 head. However, this didn’t materialise and the kill actually finished up on 2019 figures.

Up to 25 December, the 2020 kill was at 1,777,293 head, up 40,008 on the 2019 figure of 1,737,285 head. The 2019 kill was down 60,000 on 2018, due to factory gate protests.

Looking at the graph in Figure 1, the weekly kill remained relatively stable throughout the year at around 35,000 head being killed weekly. The only disruption to this was COVID-19 and the impact of the first lockdown in March/April.

This disruption to supply chains and markets led to the weekly kill dropping to as low as 25,000 in April and May, but was fully recovered in early June with the kill going back to 36,000 in early June.

Table 1 details a breakdown in the kill by animal category. The major changes in 2020 has been the huge shift away from young bull beef production.

There were 69,505 fewer young bull slaughtered in 2020. This shift has been as a result of factory sentiment changing towards bulls and with many farmers having faced delays getting young bulls killed in 2019, they have opted for the steer route.

Some of this move away from bulls will be the reason for the steer kill moving up by 64,454, but the bigger impact will likely be felt in 2021.

The cow kill ended 2020 up 18,343. There was a thought that with BDGP ending that this figure could have been much higher, but cow numbers have remained stable on suckler farms. The heifer kill was up 14,124 head.

More beef sires being used on the dairy herd has resulted in a high number of lighter carcase cattle being slaughtered off grass at 18 to 20 months. While the calf slaughtering figure looks to have doubled on paper, this is because plants licensed by local county councils are now counted in the Department of Agriculture weekly figures.

Looking to the year ahead, finished cattle numbers are expected to tighten in the first six months of 2021 pointing to a positive start to the year.