18 February 2000

Top-end carcass grades ensure profits kept high

By James Garner

WINNING carcass quality awards is one way of boosting profits, but achieving top grades also ensures good returns.

Dick Avins of Steepleton Lodge Barn, East Haddon, Northants, gains extra premiums by ensuring his cattle hit top-end carcass specs. But he has also won Midland Meat Packers first three carcass quality awards, a monthly points-based competition based on all cattle each producer sends to the plant.

Throughout this winter, Mr Avins cattle have been consistently high quality, with grades averaging U3 and U4L for carcass conformation and fat content.

It pays to aim high, he says. This is reflected in his finishing philosophy as he tries to sell all his cattle at grade E for conformation, and at a target finishing weight of 360-380kg for steers and 300-330kg for heifers.

He adds that there is a 16p/kg deadweight difference in price between E and R grades, and it costs the same to feed each beast. This means each steer meeting top grades is worth an extra £50-£60.

Hitting top specs is easier given that the holding Mr Avins manages for KNS Properties is close to Midland Meat Packers abattoir at Crick, Northants. This means he can take cattle in when they are ready, rather than having to wait until he has a lorry-full.

Finished cattle always travel to the abattoir the night before slaughter, which helps them settle. Mr Avins says that because he once managed the plants lairage facility, he knows cattle are looked after.

"They settle down after the journey, rest and empty themselves. I am sure this helps them kill out better."

But before slaughter, there is much work involved in finishing cattle at premium grades, beginning with breeding and buying the right cattle.

Mr Avins 90-100 strong spring calving suckler herd is based mainly on South Devon cows, which are suitable mothers, with a quiet temperament. "They have a fairly high fat content, but good conformation, and many carcass competition winners have South Devon breeding in them," he says.

A good breeding policy is essential to producing good quality cattle, he adds. "You cant breed rats from mice, and this means you might have to pay a fair bit of money for breeding stock. But it is worth it."

His preferred cross is with a Belgian Blue or Limousin bull. Having brought a Belgian Blue bull two years ago, Mr Avins bought two Limousin bulls in Perth last year. "But I think Belgian Blue crosses weigh a bit better on the hook."

He selects stock to take on for finishing in August, with the rest sold as stores. Some stores are also bought earlier in the year so theres enough cattle to graze the 106ha (263 acres) of grass.

But housing space restricts finishing numbers to 50-60 beasts a year. "I make my selection about which beast to finish based on conformation, size and age. I look for length, width and depth and a good loin. It is not all about back-end; length is important and can mean an extra bit of loin."

In order to claim as much subsidy as possible, Mr Avins likes to claim the second BSP on steers, finishing them at 24 months and heifers at 20 months. "I have to be a bit careful with half Belgian Blue steers. They can be overweight before we can claim their second BSP payment."

Cattle are selected for slaughter by eye, although if there are any doubts about meeting specs he weighs them. "Heifers can catch you out a bit; they can look full of flesh but weigh like a bag of feathers."

All finishing animals build up to ad-lib feeding based on a 13.5ME blend of barley, maize gluten and sugar beet feed, and are only offered straw as forage. "Straw keeps them clean and silage is unreliable. It is not always spot-on quality and I want them to finish as quickly as possible, so it is better to feed them on quality grub." &#42

QUALITY CARCASSES

&#8226 Boosts profitability.

&#8226 Breeding important.

&#8226 Rations consistent.

Dick Avins and partner Cheryl Beasley aim to finish cattle at E and U conformation grades to ensure good prices.