No signs of dairy herd recovery in first quarter

Published 28 June 17

The overall GB dairy herd remained 1.5% lower (-42k head) lower than a year earlier at the start of April 2017, according to data from BCMS. The dairy herd was similarly reported to be behind 2016 levels in January this year, indicating numbers have not recovered since then.

Lower youngstock numbers, likely following from the recent poor milk prices, have been key to keeping the herd size down. Dairy heifers under 12 months old have now been behind year earlier levels for six months. This is now starting to impact on numbers of 12-18 month old cattle.

Lower numbers of potential heifer replacements reflects a trend towards using a greater proportion of beef sires for dairy cows. This trend remains apparent for calf registrations in the first quarter of 2017. Compared to Q1 2016, total dairy calf registrations were down over 10% while the number of dairy cows calving was only back 2%. As such, the proportion of dairy calvings producing a beef calf was 42% in the first 3 months of 2017, compared to only 36% in the same period last year. While retention rates, and therefore milk prices, will be important, the smaller supply of replacement heifers looks set to continue in the coming months.

Dairy Herd 28.06.17

The number of older animals (9+ years old) also remained below April 2016 levels; down 7.8% (11k head). However, numbers have rallied slightly since January, with the retention rate of these animals being higher than during Q1 2016.

Equally, numbers of prime dairy animals (3-4.5 years old) continued to be behind year earlier levels. In contrast to older animals, numbers showed little development since January, remaining 4.6% below April 2016 (-25k head).

Despite these developments, in the shorter term, more animals between 18 and 36 months of age continue to move through the herd. Numbers in this age bracket were 5% higher year-on-year at the start of April (+33k head). With these animals approaching prime dairying age, if retained, they have the potential to provide a boost to milk production over the next 12 months.