When are cattle fit for slaughter?

As the grazing season progresses, more and more cattle will become fit for slaughter off grass. The beef kill in recent weeks has been running on the low side and well back on 2019.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has a part to play in this in terms of demand and farmers opting not to finish cattle due to market volatility, the factories’ ‘pool of cattle’ simply is not there. Also, a move away from young bull finishing also has led to smaller numbers coming on stream.

Saying that, last week, the kill has risen by over 2,000 head, which was mainly driven by heifers and cows. So, more cattle will reach slaughter stage in the coming weeks.

And, those farmers who stuck with the bull-beef enterprise are currently slaughtering 2019 spring-born bulls as they come fit under 16 months-of-age.

So, how do we know when an animal has reached its finishing potential and is ready for slaughter?

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