Dairy farmers and suckled calf producers could be losing up to £100 a cow by failing to market cows carrying the correct level of finish to meet the developing market for over 30-month beef.

And says Stan Ayrton, of Lancs-based Rose County Foods, it is mainly because cows are too fat.

“This is a new market for all of us, but farmers must learn they can’t use the same selection criteria for OTM cattle they would use for prime cattle.

They are two totally separate commodities producing different carcasses,” says Mr Ayrton.

Rose County Foods, based at Sawley, Clitheroe, is handling 650 head of OTM cattle a week.

It is a growing market, which can become a useful source of income for dairy and beef producers, but only when farmers avoid the assumption that fat means fit.

“Cows lay down fat differently to younger animals and we are getting a lot of beef cows – particularly Continental crosses – that might look good on the hoof, but are actually carrying far too much fat.”

The experience of the killing line at Rose County Foods suggests cattle producers are uncertain how much feeding – if any – is needed to produce the finished OTM carcass carrying the finish demanded.

And there is no doubt mastering selection skills for older cattle bound for the beef market has not been helped by 10 years of off-loading cattle through OTMS.

“We are all on a sharp learning curve, but for farmers to get the best returns from these cattle they need to make the right decisions about when to market them and whether it’s worth extra feeding.

And if it is worth putting these cattle in a building and feeding them for a month, is the return going to be there?

Rose County Food’s ideal specification for OTM cattle is for stock to achieve fat class 3 or 4L; a 2 is considered lean and a 4H is bordering on too much finish.

The 5L carcass is rated too fat and the 5H – and these are common – is simply a disaster, says Mr Ayrton.

“But there are signs things are improving.

The percentage of over-fat OTM cattle is reducing.”

The base weight specification for OTM cattle ranges from 270-400kg, with deductions made over the upper limit and lower limit.

The current base price being paid by Rose County Foods is £1.60/kg for R3 and 4L carcasses.

jh@jeremyhuntassociates.com