14 December 2020










Selecting Beef Cattle for Slaughter

When finishing beef cattle, your overall aim is to maximise your financial returns while producing an animal that the market wants which is ultimately, presenting a clean animal and hitting the right specification for conformation, fat class and weight.

For you to have the most control over how your beef cattle grade in the factory, it’s important to keep track of their performance through visual and handling assessments, especially for fat levels as they come up to slaughter, and by doing this you will increase your chances of meeting market specification.

Cattle are graded using the EUROP grid which assesses conformation and fat class.

Widley speaking, the conformation of the animal is largely down to the genetics of the animal and breeding. It is less influenced by husbandry compared to fat. 

 Handling Points:

To assess conformation there are three key areas to focus on
·       The depth and thickness of the round or hind quarter (A).
·       The fullness of the loin (B).
·       The thickness of the flesh over the shoulder (C).
Round/Hind Quarter
Very rounded
Wide and very thick up to shoulder
Very rounded
Wide and thick up to shoulder
Well developed
Still thick but less width at shoulder
Fairly well developed
Average to lacking development
Average to lacking thickness
Average development/almost flat
Poorly developed
Narrow with bones visible
Flat with bones visible
When you view a well conformed animal from the rear, they stand wide with convex hindquarters that are wider than their back, and from the front they are wide between the legs and thick through the shoulder. In comparison, cattle with a poor conformation, will have a straight and hollow appearance, with an often bony or angular structure.

Aside from conformation, the fat class of an animal is largely influenced by diet and sex, with heifers laying down fat more quickly than steers or bulls. This also applies to the Traditional Breeds such as Hereford and Aberdeen Angus. It is estimated that it takes four times the amount of energy for an animal to put on a kilo of fat compared to a kilo of muscle. This costs farmers more in feeding than in any financial gain from sending heavier animals.

Achieving the optimum fat class for an animal is crucial as retailers and consumers do not want meat with excess fat.

Handling Points:

To assess fat class there are three key areas to focus on
·       The pin bonesand either side of the tail head (D).
·       The transverse processes of the loin (B).
o   Where possible, handle animals over the loin on the left side as seen from behind to best assess fat cover as this fat hangs loose away from the loin compared to the right side.
·       The ribs (E).
Using your fingertips, you will be able to feel the fat depth over the underlaying muscle and bone at each of the handling points. As the animal gets fatter the ends of the transverse processes over the loin and pin bones become more rounded.
Tail Head
1 & 2
Skin is tight
Area is firm and unyielding
Ends of transverse processes very prominent with individual bones felt deeply
Prominent and clearly visible
Very thin layer of fat Yielding slightly to moderate pressure
Ends of transverse processes prominent with individual bones felt
Some fat is detectable over the bones, but individual ribs are still easily felt
Thin layer of fat when skin on either side of tail head is pinched
Ends of transverse processes slightly rounded by fat and felt with light pressure
Thin layer of fat is felt over the bones with individual ribs felt with light pressure
Puffier appearance with soft fat layer when felt using light pressure
Soft area around pin bones with fat spreading back towards tail head
Ends of individual transverse processes are felt only with moderate pressure
Distinct layer of fat is felt over the ribs with individual ribs felt with moderate pressure
Moderate fat cover that looks puffy and feels spongy
Transverse processes are felt only with firm pressure
Thick soft fat covers the ribs with individual ribs felt with firm pressure
Thick and patchy fat layer that looks very puffy and feels very spongy
Individual transverse processes cannot be felt
Ribcage is smooth with individual ribs not being felt