Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Ensuring your livestock meets consumers’ needs

Steve Powdrill, AHDB's National Selection Specialist, runs our programme of Farm to Fork events, helping beef and sheep farmers to understand more about how to market prime beef or lamb. He writes about the importance of finishing livestock to their full potential.

As a beef or sheep farmer it is important that you think of yourself as a meat producer. You are providing a product to an end market, the consumer, so you need to understand what people want to buy. Around 49 per cent of prime beef and 40 per cent of prime lamb currently fails to meet ideal target market specifications, which has a significant impact on the price farmers are paid for their stock.

I spend a lot of time out and about talking to farmers and processors and, at this time of year, I’m seeing a lot of animals being brought in to abattoirs that are either under or over-finished. It is important to market all stock to their full potential and don’t rely on weighing animals alone – after a certain point stock will be adding more fat than meat, and consumers do not want an over-fat product. Equally, it’s important to ensure stock are not too lean as under-finished stock also have the potential to be out of spec, all of which reduces returns and has a knock-on effect to the consumer.
At times abattoirs can be fully booked up for several weeks, dependant on supply and demand, so I recommend that you plan in advance and keep in touch with your local abattoir about their specific waiting times.

Weather plays a huge part in finishing in terms of stock and feed quality so feedback  as to how stock are killing out is vital. If you’re selling deadweight, check kill sheets and assess how your animals are performing.

To help the industry understand more about selection, we run practical ‘Farm to Fork’ events across the country (previously ‘Live to Dead’ events) that allow farmers to handle live animals and make their assessment of fat cover and conformation using the EUROP grid. They then see the same animals on the hook in the chillers along with the actual classification, so it is a good way to compare the two results. These events also give people the opportunity to discuss various market requirements, factors affecting killing out percentages and dressing specifications. You can find the latest ‘Farm to Fork’ events on our website.

The beef and lamb industry needs to work together to increase the proportion of livestock meeting specification, as this will result in improved returns to farmers and an industry that is better focused on meeting consumer needs.

You can play your part by making use of the great resources AHDB produces as part of the Better Returns Programme. These are available to download from the Better Returns section of our website They will provide you with information around understanding the end consumer, through to practical advice on how to handle your livestock.

Find out more about understanding your market and their requirements in the BRP manuals Marketing prime beef cattle for Better Returns and Marketing prime lamb for Better Returns

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