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Stackyard News May 2011

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British Beef Carcase Quality Improvement Slows

Although the latest annual carcase classification results from EBLEX continue to show a substantial five-year improvement in the quality of British prime beef carcases, the pace of gain appears to have slowed somewhat over the past season.

beef carcases

Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board reports from a sample of more than 396,000 prime cattle classified across Britain in 2010 show just under 49% met the ‘R4L or Better’ target market specification. This remains substantially better than the 45% meeting the specification five years ago, but is clearly down on the 50% or more of 2008 and 2009.

Partly responsible for this is the marked fall in the proportion of young bulls classifying ‘R4L or Better’ over the past year – 48% compared to 57% in 2009. As is crystal clear from the 10 point reduction in the success with which bulls met the ‘R or Better’ conformation target, this is primarily a reflection of the greater number of pure-bred dairy animals finished in 2010.

Detailed analyses, however, demonstrate that differences in bull quality are only part of the story. Steer classifications, in particular, confirm this. Last year some 50% of steers made the ‘R4L or Better’ target compared to 52% in both 2008 and 2009. Underlying this was a disappointing fall back in the proportion classifying ‘R or Better’, which may also reflect increased dairy-bred numbers.

This would account for the fact that the proportion of heifer carcases meeting the market specification was maintained at 2009 levels by relatively better levels of conformation. And this despite some reduction in quality of finish resulting from the difficulties of the season.

Overall, finishing quality has improved markedly in both steers and heifers over the past five years. Fully 89% and 77% respectively classified ‘4L or Leaner’ last year compared to 81% and 71% in 2005. In contrast, conformation quality has remained stubbornly immovable, oscillating around 60% throughout the entire period, underlining the particular need for greater emphasis on breeding improvement to secure continued carcase quality gains.

British Beef Carcase Performance 2009 – 2010 (AHDB)

Practical guidance to support improvements in carcase quality through breeding, feeding, management and selection for slaughter is available free of charge to English levy payers through the EBLEX Beef Better Returns Programme and the Beef Action for Profit resource, both accessible at

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