“Think of the cattle you’re producing as food, and consider what the beef consumer wants.” This was the take-home message from Murray Hardy of Scotbeef abattoir near Stirling when he spoke to the Clyde monitor farm community group at the recent two-day monitor farm meeting.
Carstairs Mains in South Lanarkshire is owned by Andrew Baillie and is one of the network of Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) monitor farms throughout Scotland.
Andrew and his father, David Baillie of nearby Calla Farm, both consign finished stock to Scotbeef.
On the first day of the meeting using five, 100% beef genetics, finished cattle (two heifers, three steers) at Calla, to illustrate his talk, Murray Hardy explained some of the main points for beef finishers to consider.
“You only get one chance to slaughter a prime cattle beast, so maximise your return by taking it to its full potential, but not beyond.
“When your cattle are ready to go, sell. Don’t be tempted to hang onto them in the hope of the price improving, by doing that you run the risk of the cattle going over-fat.
“Excess fat is costly for farmers to put onto cattle and costly for processors to trim off.
“For the majority of meat wholesalers, the optimum beef carcase is conformation grade R or better, 4L for fat cover and weighing 340 – 360 kgs.
“Heavy carcases create problems for retailers, particularly regarding the size of cuts. A standard eight ounce sirloin steak off a heavy carcase is thinner and much less appealing than an eight ounce steak from a 350 kg carcase.”
On the second day of the meeting, the five Calla cattle, plus four Holstein Friesian bulls from monitor farmer Andrew Baillie, were slaughtered at Scotbeef.
Scotbeef supplies restaurant chain McDonalds. Young, lean, dairy bull beef is ideal for processing into burgers.
In addition to all the bull calves from his 75 head suckler herd, Andrew Baillie annually finishes approximately 120, ten week old dairy bull calves, purchased from two local farms.
The dairy calves are double vaccinated on their farms of origin, to help protect them against pneumonia. Nevertheless at the end of 2012, pneumonia was a problem amongst the young bulls at Carstairs Mains.
At the December 2012 meeting, after farm vet Charles Marwood of the Clyde Vet Group had demonstrated smoke bomb tests in buildings housing the young bulls, the community group suggested improving the ventilation in one building and erecting windbreak curtains along the open side of another. Both suggestions were promptly actioned by Mr Baillie.
A year later, Mr Baillie told the group that there had been no problems with pneumonia in the then current batches of finishing bulls.
In the quartet of dairy bulls slaughtered recently at Scotbeef, the two eldest – 16 months and 14 ½ months – were from the group which had been affected with pneumonia at the end of 2012.
Mr Baillie’s finishing bulls are electronically identified and weighed fortnightly through a hydraulic squeeze crush with a weigh cell. A computerised electronic tag reader, linked to the weigh cell, gives an instant daily liveweight gain for each animal.
“The four bulls were weighed the day before slaughter,” Mr Baillie told the group. “The two oldest bulls, aged 16 and 14 ½ months, had a lifetime daily liveweight gain of 0.8 kgs and 0.5 kgs, whereas the two younger bulls, which were both approximately 12 months old, had grown at 1.4 kgs and 1.1 kgs per day. Not surprisingly, the two oldest bulls also yielded the two lightest carcases.
“We’re told by vets that calf pneumonia reduces an animal’s liveweight gain and performance for its entire life. Following these four animals through to slaughter and comparing the performance and yield of the two which had been affected with the two which hadn’t, has really shown me just what a cost pneumonia is!” commented Mr Baillie.
“Scotbeef made it possible for me to see the lungs from the two oldest bulls, and while there weren’t any obvious signs of damage, it was great to have that opportunity.”
Mr Baillie added: “It was also good to see the carcase of the youngest bull. Of the four carcases, this bull had the best lifetime daily liveweight gain – 1.4 kgs, and was the heaviest (266.8 kgs), but his daily weight gain had suddenly dropped in the last few weeks. Interestingly his fat grade was 4L, whereas the other three all graded 2.
“Watching the nine cattle, five of Dad’s Limousin crosses and my four dairy bulls, going through the highly efficient Scotbeef processing line together, comparing the two very different types of carcase was extremely interesting.
“To then watch the grading, be able to discuss the grades with the grader, and learn the points which determine the conformation grade, plus seeing the actual fat cover on the cattle the day after trying to assess this on the live animals, was a valuable education.”
The next Clyde monitor farm meeting will be on 21 May 2014.
For more information, please contact either of the Joint Facilitators -
Grant Conchie, 01555 662562, firstname.lastname@example.org
Raymond Crerar, 01292 525458, Raymond.email@example.com
For general information on Monitor Farms, plus detailed reports of meetings, please visit: www.qmscotland.co.uk/monitor-farms