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News > Meeting Market specification – Why is it so important?


Meeting Market specification – Why is it so important?

November 18, 2021

Producing what the market wants is the key to success in any business.

Noel McNeil, CAFRE Beef and Sheep Adviser highlights that both beef finishers and suckler to beef farmers need to have a knowledge of market specification and understand why that specification is important.  

Many different factors are considered when determining the specification of animal carcases and the suitability for particular markets. They include carcass weight, fat class, age at slaughter, number of farm residences, quality assurance status, breed and country of origin.

Beef price can be volatile and base price is outside the control of farmers in most cases, but meeting the specification targets is an important way of making sure the best price possible is achieved and this is very much within the control of farmers.

Market specification for carcases allows the beef produced to access as many retail markets as possible. For example, Great Britain is the largest market for Northern Ireland beef and Farm Quality Assurance status is key to accessing this market.

Other elements which farmers can control include for example the number of residences or days on the last farm, and statistics from LMC indicate that the majority of animals meet these specifications.

Farmers can exercise control over age at slaughter, carcase weight, conformation grade and fat class, but LMC statistics show that they don’t have the same success in meeting these elements of the specification.

Noel explains why there is a need for specifications and how farmers can meet the three main targets of Weight, Conformation Grade and Fat Class.


Carcase weight requirements are normally 280-380kg.

Processors aim to sell as much of the carcase as possible into the highest value markets, and these are demanding in terms of consistency and quality, with pack size being an important part of this.

Sirloin or fillet steaks of the same retail weight from a 440kg carcase and a 330kg carcase will be very different in shape, making the marketing of the heavier carcase more difficult.

Farmers can bring cattle to heavier weights to get the adequate fat cover, and both breeding and feeding regimes can contribute to this. A higher energy diet will enable animals to put down fat cover and help with finish. Farmers should look at the timing of the final high energy diet finishing phase to optimise weight and fat cover.

Having a weighbridge and weighing and condition scoring cattle regularly to monitor performance will help farmers to select cattle at correct weight and fat cover.

Conformation Grade

Breeding or genetics has a significant impact on grade, but diet also plays an important role in making sure animals reach their full genetic potential.

Suckler to beef farmers have a lot of influence in this area, being in full control of both the cow type and the bull used to sire offspring.

E and U grades may pay better on a pricing grid but farmers need to consider carefully the management issues with more extreme carcase animals such as calving ease.

Beef finishers however have to judge cattle at purchase to try and select as many as possible to meet this desired grade.  Diet then comes into play to make sure the animal reaches its full genetic potential.

Fat Class

The ideal fat class is 3, 4-/+

Steaks from the loin of an animal which is not well covered will not look visually appealing and will also cook differently which could lead to a negative consumer experience

Carcases which are over finished are lower yielding in saleable beef due to more trimming which leads to waste.

Figures from LMC Deadweight Price Reporting for quarter 2 2021 show that 48% of young bulls finished were under a fat class 3. A 380kg R grade young bull at a fat class 1+ could potentially loose 20p/kg over a fat class 3 carcass with a potential loss of £76. 

Noel stresses that breeding and diet are again important factors in getting to the desired fat class, for example at the extremes native breed heifers will lay down fat at a much earlier stage than continental bulls, and will do so on much lower energy diets.

The ideal finishing diet for an animal depends on breed and type, with young bulls, steers and heifers requiring different diets and energy contents to achieve optimum performance.

Higher protein diets are good for growing the frame of an animal but to put down sufficient amounts of fat it needs to be on a high energy diet.

To asses an animal for fat cover the areas to look at are the tail head, transverse processes and along the ribs, and in heifers around the udder. Handling animals should always done in a safe handling facility.

Noel summarises by explaining that farmers can control what is happening inside the farm gate. Meeting specification maximises price and ultimately generates more income.