The End Product

The Beltie is a beef breed, and the end product of breeders’ endeavours is therefore meat production. Depending on your operation you will be producing animals somewhere in this chain; be it for finished article, for stores or for the seed corn animals; the cows and bulls that will underpin the breeding of the enterprise.

Assuming that the idea is to make a profit, this article looks briefly at the features of the finished article; the carcase. Other articles in the series will look at specific factors such as production, grassland management and genetics, feeding and marketing.

The carcase is the first stage in transforming a live animal into meat after slaughter and the removal of hide, head, blood and internal organs. In the UK and the EU a classification system (Beef Carcase Classification Scheme) was introduced in 1981. The idea was to ensure a standard system and a fair price for producers. Conformation is shown first in a 5 point grid; E is excellent, U is Very Good; R is Good, O is Fair and P is Poor. Most native British breeds fall into the R or O categories, whilst dairy bred animals are often found on P.



The other dimension is for fat cover and the scores range from 1 (Low) to 5 (Very High). Points 4 and 5 and sub-divided into high and low, giving 7 classes for fat cover, arguably to allow a more accurate description of the carcase. In Australia the fat cover is measured over the rump.

In the UK the grading is done by an independent grader and run by the Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC), and its siblings in the devolved nations. Large abattoirs (75+ animals per week) must grade, whilst the smaller ones MAY grade, but still have to classify all carcases. The grading is a subjective assessment, although in Ireland a pilot video image analysis is being trialled. The most usual carcase is R4L i.e. “Good” carcase, with “Average to “high” fat cover. It would be very interesting to check the classifications and carcase weights for Belties. The carcases are subject to dressing specifications which are also monitored by the graders. Different abattoirs can have different dressing specifications. The system does not record taste/tenderness.

The price the owner receives is calculated by multiplying the carcase weight by the classification price for the category of animal (steer, bull, heifer etc). These are published weekly in the farming papers. A slip is shown below.



A specimen slip

  • The saleable meat is therefore the % left to sell.
  • The killing out percentage KO% is the amount of live animal that ends up as a carcase. This varies between 45 -66%, and is variable, being affected by many factors; age, sex, gut fill, and breed.
  • Muscling causes some confusion. The muscle to bone ratio – the weight of bone to muscle is the best definition of muscling. It is not affected by size or the level of fatness, and remains fairly constant through an animal’s life. A carcase with a greater weight of muscling attached to a skeleton of a given size has more “muscling” than one with less muscle weight on the same skeleton. M: B ratio can vary between animals.

This very brief overview gives and idea of the complexity of the task, and I was minded of the east Yorkshire farmers advice entitled “three sure ways to loos money; 1) bet ont’ osses, 2) spend it on wimmin, and 3) most certain way ‘tis to finish beef cattle!

There are plenty of advisors and tools around to guide you, I found the EBLEX guidelines very useful, for example “Better Returns from Native Beef Finishing”, and environmental grazing, which give clear and practical points.

My thanks also to the MLC and to Barry McIntyre from University of Perth Agriculture department.

Liz Wilkinson