Beef calf births for the year to date are running 30,000 behind last year.

The latest ICBF data shows the number of calves born for the year to date as only reaching 492,877. That is down 32,405 on last year’s equivalent figure, a drop of over 6% in a single year.

The drop in calf births was even worse last year, with a fall of 41,273 compared to 2022. Overall, there has been a decline in births from January-mid-June.

Of course, births may improve over the remaining months, but overall the trend is, if not irreversible, certainly alarming.

In 2021, there were 584,040 calves born at this stage of the year, meaning there has been a fall of more than 15% in calf births in only three years.

This stark figure ties in with declining suckler cow numbers, and reflects the evidence of the latest Irish Farmers Journal survey, where one in four suckler farmers surveyed said that they had cut suckler numbers in the last year.

While the loss of a couple of hundred large suckler herds to dairy conversion has been a feature of the gradual decline of the suckler herd over the last dozen years, this slow drift out of the sector by 15,000 farmers is much more significant.

Suckler cow numbers themselves have barely held above the 800,000 mark in the most recent ICBF figures.

It means the national suckler herd has declined by over 300,000 in little more than a decade. The ICBF figure for the number of suckler cows on 1 April this year was 800,783 cows. That’s a drop of over 45,000 in 12 months, mirroring the continuous drop in beef calf births.

It’s been a steady decline. In 2013, there were about 1.1m suckler cows in the country. It was 2019 before the ICBF assessed suckler numbers as falling below one million, and they have fallen every year since.

A recent Teagasc survey found that one in four of the country’s 50,000 small drystock farmers plan to cease farming and lease their land over the next five years.