Understand specs to get most from direct selling
Suspension of auction marts means beef and lamb producers
only option is to sell directly to abattoirs. Marianne Curtis
reports on how to make the most of deadweight selling
BEEF and lamb finishers have been forced to sell directly to abattoirs since the foot-and-mouth outbreak. This is a new experience for many, but understanding more about specification requirements will help maximise returns.
The MLC has produced a fact sheet, written by beef scientist Duncan Pullar, explaining how the deadweight selling process works.
Before the F&M outbreak, 60% of cattle and 80% of lambs were sold through auction markets, he says.
"Nearly all abattoirs will have bought animals directly from farms and be familiar with the process, but for producers it may be unexplored territory.
"Abattoirs supplying supermarkets will often require farm assured stock, but there are opportunities to sell stock to outlets which do not require it. When animals are assured, make sure the buyer knows."
Knowing how animals will be valued is critical when assessing returns. "Some abattoirs use a fieldsman to agree a price for a batch of cattle or lambs, taking into account variations within the group.
"Others use a price grid based on the EUROP classification scheme to set prices. When you agree a price for a batch of animals, you are accepting the fieldsmans judgement on how animals will grade. His accuracy can be checked when kill sheets are received, which show actual weights and grades." (see table right)
Although changing conformation of animals is long term, usually requiring a change in breeding policy, fatness level can be influenced relatively easily, says Dr Pullar.
"At present, 21% of cattle are marketed at fat class 4H or higher, which is too fat for most markets. Marketing one month earlier will reduce fat class by one unit. But a high fat class can sometimes be the result of striving to achieve minimum weights required by abattoirs. In this case, reducing energy content of diets earlier in the system, allowing cattle to develop more frame may be necessary."
An understanding of dressing specifications will help with price comparisons between abattoirs. There are four nationally recognised dressing specifications for cattle – MLC standard, new national, old EC and new EC. About 75% of abattoirs use new EC and of the remaining 25% about half use old EC and half MLC standard.
"While there is little you can do to alter an abattoirs dressing specification, prices can be compared to ensure the same carcass value is achieved." For a 300kg carcass there must be about a 5p/kg increase in price to compensate for the reduction in carcass weight where the new EC specification is used compared with the MLC standard spec (see table above).
For lambs there are two nationally recognised dressing specs – MLC standard and tail removed.
The factsheet, Selling Beef Cattle and Lambs Deadweight, is available from the MLC (01908-677577).
Dressing specification for
a 300kg beef carcass
Dressing Carcass p/kg Carcass
spec wt (kg) value (£)
MLC standard 300 170.0 510
New national 297 171.7 510
Old EC 294 173.4 510
New EC 291 175.2 510
EUROP classification grid with example
price differentials/kg for lamb
1 2 3 4 5
L* H* L H L *
lamb lamb beef beef beef beef
R Sheep base Cattle base
*L = low and * = high. Source: MLC