“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it is about the future” (Niels Bohr). Despite this wise observation, we all want to know what is likely to happen in the future and so we look at what has happened in the past and try to guess what this means for the future. For the cattle business this is always challenging because of the impact of “weather” and now we face massive uncertainty due to Brexit. However, trends in our industry are slow to change, as the decisions already made by thousands of individual farmers for example concerning choice of breed for their stock bull or replacement heifers will take years to work through to the BCMS statistics. This momentum gives us some confidence to predict that the period of strong growth of Salers seen over the last half a dozen years will continue for years to come, not least because the rate at which farmers are switching to Salers is underpinned by the Salers demonstrated superior performance on farm.
The number of breeding suckler cows is expected to reduce by some 40,000 head in 2018 (to about 1.18 million breeding cows). As this report is prepared before the year end, the 2018 numbers are based on year to date, and there is anecdotal evidence of particularly heavy culling of cows in the final quarter (and probably continuing into 2019), so the final calculation of the size of the UK suckler herd may reveal an even bigger reduction. The number of UK dairy cows also dropped slightly though the total is still higher than it was four years ago.
Driven by the reduction in numbers of suckler cows, the number of beef sired calves born in 2018 dropped by about 20,000 to 1.83 million though this is still above the total recorded four years ago.
Though the backdrop is of reducing numbers of suckler and perhaps also fewer dairy cows due to Brexit uncertainty and huge pressure on costs because of the weather, increasing numbers of farmers are continuing to switch to using the Salers breed as a suckler cow and/ or as a crossing bull.
Salers Market Share
The trend here is consistent with recent years, the growth in the use of the Salers bull has continued very strongly. The Salers bull is now 8th in the league table of beef sires, up from 9th place last year. As the breed now immediately above the Salers has a market share of 2.7% compared to our 1.6% market share, so the move up to 7th is likely to take some years.
In the suckler cow market, the Salers annual rate of increase also continued unabated moving us up to 8th in the suckler cow league table. There again is a sizeable step up to the breed in 7th place, and it will be quite a few years before we are in contention for the 7th spot.
Salers: Perfect for Crossing
The chart shows the main sires used on Salers/SalersX cows over recent years. Just over one third are bred to Salers bulls to meet the strong demand for SalersX heifers as replacements and the remainder are crossed with bulls from a broad cross-section of the major beef breeds.
This demonstrates that the Salers is not a niche breed, but that the Salers/SalersX cow has the versatility to produce excellent crossbred calves to meet the varying needs of the markets in different part of the UK. The Salers large pelvic area enables calves from breeds with heavier birth weights to be born unassisted, and the Salers mothering ability and milkiness ensures that these calves thrive and grow to their maximum potential.
Prospects for 2019
In times of uncertainty and where profitability is threatened by increasing costs, suckler farmers more than ever need a cow that can produce a high value calf for minimum cost and minimum hassle. The Salers is outstandingly successful in these respects, which is why the breed has been significantly outperforming the beef sire and suckler cow markets for many years. With the foundation of proven performance on farm, there is every reason to be positive about the growth of the breed in 2019 and beyond.