The quality of British prime beef carcases was maintained during 2011, according to the latest annual carcase classification results released by EBLEX.
Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) data taken from a sample of just under 400,000 prime cattle classified across Great Britain in 2011 shows that 49% of carcases met the ‘R4L or better’ target market specification.
More detailed analysis of the statistics shows that the only notable improvement was in young bull classifications, where the number hitting ‘R4L or better’ increased from 48% to 53%, although this was still significantly lower than the 57% recorded in 2009. Looking at these results in conjunction with BCMS data, it’s clear that this improvement is due to a reduction in the number of dairy-bred bulls as increasing feed costs put producers off finishing these animals.
The conformation quality of heifer carcases improved slightly year on year, from 62% to 64%, however only 77% were finished at ‘4L or leaner’, significantly fewer than other types of prime cattle, suggesting some producers are still allowing heifers to get over-fat as they chase extra weight as well as the higher conformation classes.
The most disappointing result was for steer carcase classifications, where the proportion meeting the conformation target fell back from 58% to 56%. This appears to be a developing trend, as this figure was 60% in 2009. One possible explanation is that producers may be trying to finish animals earlier to minimise feed costs, or are overly keen to benefit from high prices. There is also the indication of more black and white steers coming through to finish.
Overall, the finishing quality results paint an encouraging picture, indicating that 87% of cattle slaughtered in Great Britain are still being selected at an appropriate level of finish. Conformation quality results, on the other hand, show that only 58% of cattle are reaching target, demonstrating that the industry needs a sustained focus on breeding improvements to achieve further carcase quality gains.
British Beef Carcase Performance 2010 – 2011 (AHDB)
Practical guidance to support improvements in carcase quality through breeding, feeding, management and selection for slaughter is available through the EBLEX Beef Better Returns Programme accessible at www.eblex.org.uk
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