Assessing cattle that are fit for slaughter: What do I look for?

While beef prices are nothing to write home about at the minute, farmers will have more cattle coming close to slaughter over the coming weeks.

However, generally speaking, beef prices are at the higher end of the scale during December and into the new year.

Beef animals need to be fed an energy-dense diet. By feeding the correct ration, animals add meat to their frame and optimise fat cover before slaughter.

The cost of finishing rations are expensive and, therefore, the key to running a profitable winter-finishing programme is efficiency.

Margins are already extremely tight and without careful management and assessment, beef-finishing systems become inefficient and any hope of securing a profit is lost.

Firstly, regularly weighing finishing cattle is extremely important to determine slaughter date; as the saying goes: ‘You cannot manage what you don’t measure’.

From this, when a finishing animal’s daily weight gain starts to decrease, this is an indication that the animal is coming near slaughter.

Secondly, it is important to look at where the animal deposits fat. In the case of steers and heifers, animals should be assessed around the tail, rib and loin.

In the case of bulls, measuring fat cover can be a little more difficult. On very well-conformed bulls, it can be difficult to see the fat cover building up at the tail.

While the bull is in a crush, pressing along the back (loin) of the bull will allow the farmer to assess fat cover; this area should feel soft.

Another area that can be examined is behind the shoulder. Again, this area should have a degree of softness indicating fat cover, while the rib area is also another good indication.

Farmers should also check the flank area, as large amounts of fat are deposited here. A ‘fleshy’ look indicates that the animal is coming fit.

The brisket – which is located between the two front legs – is another area where animals deposit fat – particularly the early-maturing breeds (Hereford and Angus). However, other breeds also deposit fat here after 100 days of intense feeding.

The final area that needs to be assessed is the cod (area above the scrotum). This area will fill with fat when the animal is fully fit and it’s the last area where the bull will deposit fat.

There is a huge difference – in terms of profitability – between killing an animal that is fit and not fit.

If we take for example, a 5% fall in kill out percentage – on a 400kg young bull (dead weight) – that equates to a 20kg lighter carcass. If we take a young bull price of 385c/kg, that’s a loss of €77/head.

Furthermore, liaising with your factory and comparing your results with actual results will help for future assessments – practice makes perfect.