Switch from bulls to steers to prove costly

Being driven by consumer demand to rear steers instead of bulls has resulted in one Scottish farmer losing £135 an animal.

Encouraged by a major supermarket to make a move from rearing bull beef to producing steers, because of consumer demand for smaller cuts, has regrettably cost Perthshire beef farmer Adrian Ivory £135 for every steer sold.

Mr Ivory, farming at Strathisla Farm, Meigle, thought the move to producing steers, which took place in October 2007, would increase revenue for every steer sold, while at the same time pleasing the end user. “At the time, steers were making 10p/kg more than bulls. And with my processor also suggesting steers were what the supermarket wanted because of size and taste of the animal, I thought I was making the right decision,” he says.

Before changing, Mr Ivory kept all his Simmental and South Devon crosses entire, finishing them on an intensive barley beef system at 13.5 months.

“Deadweight was between 355-360kg and average kill out percentage about 54.5-55%, with more than 75% of the animals with a conformation of U or better. The cost to produce a bull last year was 226p/kg deadweight, with the average bull grossing £730. This gross took into account costs to cover the entire enterprise from labour to fertiliser,” he explains.

Comparison of rearing bull beef and steers




Time to finish (months)



Deadweight (kg)



Kill out %



Average Conformation



Gross average price (£)



Price differential between steers and bulls = £135

“Bull beef suited my system because we grow all barely and straw on farm and the only item bought in to feed is minerals. I believe it is not cost-effective for me to plough up quality grade-two arable lands to plant grass for grazing steers, therefore, when I started rearing steers, they were done so intensively.”

This year, steers have been killed out at 14 months old. However, deadweight was only 310kg, which Mr Ivory expressed “is not good enough” .

“Some bulls also killed this year were slaughtered at 13.5 months with a deadweight of 355kg. The kill out percentage for steers was down at 50-52% compared with bulls at 55%,” he adds.

“And with the price differential between a U graded steer and a U graded bull at 10p/kg, producing a steer based on this figure would seem worthwhile. However, the reality is most steers were being graded an R, meaning the price differential between an R steer and a U bull was only 2p/kg.

“So with a bull weighing on average 40kg more, the steer average gross was down at £855 compared to the average bull gross price of £990, making a difference of £135 between producing a steer than a bull,” he explains.

“This was a shocking result and I will be going straight back to producing bull beef next year. The only way I would ever go back to producing steers is if there was a price differential of 20-25p/kg, because this is the only way I could make more money than bull beef,” he adds.

Mr Ivory takes bull beef to 680kg live weight, but comments how he found steers hard pushed to get above 620kg. However, Mr Ivory does accept his system is suited to intensive production and raising steers for some producers on a different system may work.

“My processor ABP is more than happy to take bull beef, but now my work is cut out to try and persuade the supplying supermarket there is no taste difference between bull beef and steers,” he says.