Grading cattle: What do the meat processors want?

Kepak held a live cattle grading demonstration at a recent Dairygold Beef Expo at Fermoy Mart, Co. Cork, where Brian Delaney – a procurement manager in Ennis – outlined what Kepak is looking for and what feeding regimes and systems work best.

Kepak’s Alan Connaughton also explained what the markets and customers are requiring.

He said: “When you break down what a customer wants, they look for steers and heifers under 30-months and they are looking for cattle under 380kg (dead weight).

“With a lot more dairy-beef coming on stream – from a quality point of view – we are looking for O= cattle or better,” he added.

He also explained the importance of cattle reaching their potential in terms of flesh and fat score.

“For us, the perfect animal weighs 300-330kg and these animals reach the customer specifications; the steak cuts from a 480kg (dead weight), U-grade carcass are too big,” he added.

Live-grading demonstration

The first cattle that entered the ring were two Friesian bullocks, born in February 2017; they weighed 490kg on average.

Brian outlined that the best system for these cattle in order to optimise kill-out percentage was a 100-day finishing programme.

“From our own research, within the 100-day feeding period, these cattle would eat between 600kg and 700kg of concentrates after build-up onto a high-concentrate diet.

“After 100 days feeding, we would expect these cattle to do an average daily gain (ADG) of 1kg/day; so after 100 days, we would expect these cattle weigh roughly 600kg.”

Taking a kill-out percentage of 50%, these cattle would have a carcass weight of 300kg.

Continuing, Brian said: “The areas we assess when we are choosing an animal for slaughter are: the tail head; the cod area; the area above the ribs; the ribs; and the brisket.

“We want a ‘nice’ bit of cover over the tail head and the cod area should be full. The ribs should have a ‘nice’ cover and the brisket (located between the two front legs) is a good indicator of fat cover,” Brian added.

The Clare-based procurement manager also highlighted that – when cattle are graded in the factory – the mechanical grader examines the shoulder, the loin and the rump.

Angus heifer

Accompanying the Friesian bullocks was an Angus-cross heifer from the suckler herd; she weighed 500kg.

Brian suggested the same 100-day finishing period for this type of heifer. He said: “With this heifer being fed for 100 days, we would expect an ADG of 1.3/kg/day.

After 100 days feeding, she should weigh 630kg (live weight) and I would expect a kill-out percentage of 55%.

“Therefore, she would have a carcass weight of 330kg and come into an R= grade with a fat score or 3+ or 4-,” he explained.

Angus-bred bullocks out of continental cows

The next animals to enter the ring were Angus-bred bullocks out of continental cows. These bullocks were born in February 2017 and they weighed 520kg.

Again, Brian suggested a 100-day finishing period. He said: “After the finishing period, I would expect these bullocks to have an ADG of 1.4kg/day and to grade R=.

“Taking them at 520kg, with 100 days feeding, these bullocks would be 660kg (live weight) and I would expect a kill-out percentage of 55%, leaving a carcass weight of 360kg.

“These are very suitable cattle; they will come to flesh quick, with a good kill-out for the farmer,” he added.

The last two bullocks were also Angus-bred bullocks from continental cows; these also weighed 520kg. However, these were notably better-quality stock.

“These cattle should kill into U-grades after the 100-day finishing period. There might be a slight increase in kill-out percentage because they are a better shape and will have a carcass weight of 360-365kg.

“They have a good wide shoulder with a super hind quarter. When these cattle are coming to fitness, they will have it in all areas; they have the fat score and the confirmation we want.”

Concluding, Brian said: “I know the 100-day feeding period sounds like a long time and with current grain prices it is a lot; but it is important that the cattle are fed to their potential.”