The journey from farm to fork was highlighted to group members from the monitor farm at Hartbush, Dumfries, when they visited AK Stoddart’s beef cutting plant in Broxburn recently.
Hartbush farm, run by John Paterson and his family, is the first in the Quality Meat Scotland monitor farm programme to focus primarily on beef finishing.
Two processing companies, AK Stoddart and Highland Meats are working with the Paterson family and community group to look at the production of the cattle.
John Craig, operations director for AK Stoddart, explained to the group: “With Scottish cattle prices currently so high, but with consumer resistance blocking corresponding increases in retail price, AK Stoddart and all other beef processors need to harvest every available penny from a beef carcass to justify the purchase price.”
Innovative butchery techniques are being used to “add value” to some of the traditionally cheaper cuts. Mr Craig said: “Even the best cattle beast in the world still has cheap cuts and by turning beef from some of those cheaper cuts, like flank or shoulder, into steaks, the meat value increases.”
Some of the devaluations of a beef carcass, which can often be caused on-farm, were also discussed.
A topical livestock health issue is liver fluke, which inhibits fertility in breeding stock and performance in growing and finishing cattle.
“A fluke damaged ox liver is diverted from human consumption to pet food, with a consequent drop in value of around 60 pence per kilo,” Mr Craig told the group.
“With an ox liver weighing between five and six kilos, that’s a financial loss of at least £3 per animal. Multiplied over a year, it amounts to tens of thousands of pounds due to the high level of fluke incidence.”
Many farmers believe that the high value of a beef carcass is in the hind quarter. However, Mr Craig explained that the high value is along the back of the animal, being the fillet, sirloin, rump and rib steak cuts, which represent 33 percent of the carcass value, but are approximately just 20 percent of the total carcass weight.
This was one of the many revelations of the day for John Paterson, his family and the community group.
“I suspect we’re one of the many farmers who thought that as long as we keep a cattle beast alive and thriving, once it’s on the float to the abattoir, that’s us finished with it,” he said.
“However, we’ve learned that just some small changes – for instance, being more selective about where we vaccinate cattle – can make a significant positive difference to the value of the end product.”
For information on monitor farms and reports of meetings, go to www.qmscotland.co.uk/monitorfarms.