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Maximising returns from prime beef cattle

To ensure producers get the best returns from their livestock and consumers keep beef on their shopping list, it is vital animals are supplied to meet target specification.


However AHDB says nearly half (49 per cent) of prime beef failed to meet ideal target market specification last year.


They say not meeting specification is heavily impacting producer profitability and will affect the industry’s ability to compete on a global market once we leave the EU.

It is essential farmers see themselves as meat producers and ensure they produce what consumers want, says AHDB technical manager Steve Powdrill.


“Research has shown consumers want tender, juicy and tasty meat which is not too fatty,” he says.


“They want a consistent product and confidence they will get a good eating experience every time they buy a beef joint or steak. A bad experience with a particular cut of meat can put someone off buying it for 12 weeks or longer.”


Most quality factors can be influenced by how stock is managed on-farm, so producers have an important role to play.


“To maximise your returns it is important to know the market you are supplying and produce animals which meet specification,” says Mr Powdrill. “Rather than trying to find a market for an already finished animal, know what your buyer is looking for and manage animals in order to meet their requirements.”


A beef producer’s direct customer is the cattle buyer at the livestock market, marketing group or abattoir. Each will have their own specifications and pricing dependent on their market outlets. This will include factors such as upper and lower weights, conformation, fat, age, breed, number of movements, sex, farm assurance and fat colour.


“Producers should identify a few key target markets, find out what buyers are looking for and do everything possible to meet these requirements as accurately and as consistently as possible.


“Communication is key. Make sure you are regularly discussing market requirements and pricing grids with buyers.”

Selecting cattle

Cattle finish at a variety of weights and ages depending on breed, gender, mature size and the system they are reared and finished on. Tailoring management to ensure animals meet target specification at the right time will maximise the price paid to the producer.


Handling is the best way to accurately assess whether an animal is ready for slaughter. To gauge an animal’s conformation, take into account the depth and thickness of the round, the fullness of the loin, and the thickness of the flesh over the shoulder.


“Lean cattle with good conformation have thickly fleshed, well-rounded contours. When viewed from the rear, they stand wide with convex hindquarters which are wider than their back,” says Mr Powdrill. “From the front, they are wide between the legs and thick through the shoulder, yet have a trim brisket.


“At the other end of the scale, cattle with poor conformation have a relatively straight, or at some points hollow, appearance. They are often bony and angular.


However, be aware excess fat can disguise this to some extent.


To assess fat cover, feel the animal at the pin bones and either side of the tailhead, the loin (transverse process) and the ribs.


“When assessing fat, if possible handle animals over the loin on the left side as seen from behind,” says Mr Powdrill. “This is because kidney fat on the right hand side can be misleading when assessing fat cover.


“It is best to use just the tips of fingers to feel fat depth over the underlying muscle and bone at each of the handling points. However, remember to take the thickness of the hide into account.”


Avoiding price penalties and maximise returns

Sensitive handling is vital for animal welfare and to minimise post-slaughter damage to the carcase. Mr Powdrill says bruising and abscesses lead to wasteful trimming and even partial rejection of the carcase.


Underlying health issues, for example liver fluke, will affect growth rates and therefore influence returns.


Cattle in a dirty condition will not be accepted for slaughter as dirty hide can contaminate the carcase. Carcases will be trimmed to remove areas of contamination, resulting in price penalties for producers.


A poor muscle joint.


A good, full muscle cut, with a thin covering of fat.

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