Heavily muscled animals may have been in favour in the Spring Calf Spectacular show ring, but length, eating quality and minimal waste were of equal if not greater importance to the future of the beef supply chain, delegates attending the pre-event farm tours and conference were told.

Aberdeen Angus breeder Henry Rowntree told visitors to his farm at Gisburn that length was far more important in his breeding policy. Back end and growth rates were also paramount in achieving economic production.

“We pay huge attention to estimated breeding values and seek out bulls able to confer both growth and length to their progeny. Length is of paramount importance as longer beasts always weigh more and have longer loins, the most valuable cut on any beast.

“Loins are steaks and this is where the money is. The rump is largely for roasting joints and demand for these is lower than for steaks, so we have to breed for the trait which provides most income for our commercial bull customers.”

Mr Rowntree told visitors EBVs also played a crucial role as they could measure the traits unseen to the human eye.

“Eye muscle area, another key determinant in carcass retail value, is an essential EBV. This indicates which bulls will leave progeny which have maximum loin area and hence, again, increased steak value.”

Backing up Mr Rowntree’s views on EBVs was conference speaker Simon Frost, who said growth rate was king in his enterprise.

“Feed conversion is best when animals are young, so high 200 and 400-day growth rates are essential to maximise feed conversion. Once animals go past 14 months their feed conversion plummets, meaning it costs more to add flesh to carcasses.

“We pick bulls in the top 1% for growth to ensure our calves maximise carcass weight in the first 12 months of life.”

Picking up the theme of length again was Jonathan Birnie of Dunbia, who told conference delegates that in future carcasses would be valued on retail meat yield and meat tenderness, meaning animals which have traditionally scored well on the EUROP classification grid may be worth less in future.

“Farmers need to understand what the UK market wants. Long carcasses with little bone are essential for everyone in the chain to be able to make money. Bone is waste, so the less of it the better.

“Also in future, EBVs will be developed for eating quality, meaning farmers will be able to chose bulls whose progeny will have higher quality meat, helping provide that all-essential consistency consumers demand of meat.”