Aberdeen Angus has risen above Limousin as the most popular breed in Scotland for the first six months of 2021, according to British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) figures.

For calves born in the first half of this year, 22% were registered as Aberdeen Angus cross, while only 20% were registered with the second most popular breed, Limousin cross.

Combining pure and cross bred cattle brings the Angus total to 27% and Limousin at 22%.

On the other hand, abattoirs have increased penalties for carcases over 400kg

It has been a remarkable rise for the native breed, which 10 years ago was the fourth most popular breed, with 15% of calves registered Angus cross and 4% bred pure.

A strong Angus premium in abattoirs of up to 30p/kg has helped to drive demand for the breed. On the other hand, abattoirs have increased penalties for carcases over 400kg, which has helped the popularity of native breeds that get fat at lighter weights.

Dairy drive

Another major reason for increased Angus genetics has been the dairy sector.

Beef-sired registrations reached 84% of total registrations in 2020, which is the highest proportion since 2008. The rise of sexed semen for breeding replacement females has freed up more dairy cows for beef production. Before, over half the herd would be bred pure to get enough heifer replacements, but now many farms breed around one-third to dairy genetics. This offers a greater opportunity to run a beef bull to produce marketable offspring, either for meat or breeding stock for suckler farms.

Native breeds popular

Other native breeds have been a growing success, with Shorthorns rising from 1% to 4% since 2011. Many farmers are picking the Shorthorn for serving heifers and breeding replacements. There is also the opportunity to receive a breed bonus at Woodheads abattoir in Turriff, who pay the breed a bonus.

The French breed Salers and native Herefords have doubled the number of registrations from 1% to 2%.

Taking British Blue, Hereford, Luing, Salers, Shorthorn and Stabiliser breeds together, they account for 16% of registrations compared to 11% in 2015

However, maternal breeds can be under represented, as the mother’s breed is often left off the registration document, with many preferring to put the terminal sire on the passport, particularly for the store ring or to gain a breed premium. Taking British Blue, Hereford, Luing, Salers, Shorthorn and Stabiliser breeds together, they account for 16% of registrations compared to 11% in 2015.

Declining in popularity have been the continental breeds, like Limousin, Charolais, and Simmental. Ten years ago, over 66% of calves have one of the three breeds on their passport. So far in 2021, Limousin cross, Charolais cross and Simmental cross calves accounted for 47% of registrations.

Calf numbers up

Across Scotland last year, 557,500 calves were registered, which is 2% more than five years ago but 2.6% less than 10 years ago. In total, 466,900 head were registered to a beef breed, with the remaining 90,800 dairy registered. Dairy registrations fell nearly 17% below their 2015 peak. The Scottish beef herd is just under 400,000 cows, while the dairy herd is 172,800 cows.

A regional breakdown of registrations in 2020 shows continuing decline of calf registrations in the north east, but increases elsewhere. There were small increases in beef-sired calves of 0.3% in the south east and 0.9% in the north west, while the south west saw a jump of 3.1%. As a result, the south west, where Scotland’s dairy industry is focused, increased its share of beef-sired registrations to 47%, and to 52% of all registrations.

Spring calving remained predominant in Scotland’s beef herd in 2020, with 57% of beef registrations taking place between March and May, compared with 24% of dairy registrations.

Average Scottish herd 49 cows

The average number of beef cows on Scottish holdings increased to 48.6 in June 2020, following three years at 48.1.

At the other end of the scale, the ScottishBborders have an average herd size of 80 cows

Herd sizes are rising in the Borders, Orkney, Tayside, Ayrshire, Argyll and Bute, Shetland and Eilean Siar. By contrast, they are falling in Dumfries and Galloway, East Central and Lothian.

The smallest herds can be found in the outer Hebrides and Shetland, with an average of 7.5 and 12.6 cows respectively.

At the other end of the scale, the ScottishBborders have an average herd size of 80 cows. Across the country, 14% of all herds have over 100 cows and account for half the total beef cows.

Scotch premium worth 38p/kg

Prices paid in marts for Scotch assured cattle compared to non-assured is around 20-30% and nearly 5% for sheep, according to figures from Quality Meat Scotland. However, the number of cattle and sheep sold non-assured was 2% of the prime cattle and less than 7% of the prime sheep in marts in 2020. Last year, the sheep premium spiked to 13% when the market crashed at the beginning of the pandemic.

Last year, the farm assured premium for cattle was calculated at 38p/kg, which is down from a high of 50p/kg in 2018. For sheep, the premium was 10p/kg down from 12p/kg in 2018.

Scottish cattle younger and better grading than England

The annual prime kill in Scotland appears to be stable at around 390,000 head since 2017. This is significantly down from the 500,000 killed between 2004 to 2006. The number of mature cattle killed has been more volatile in recent years, with 64,400 killed last year, which was up 7.4% on the year but still below the 71,000 killed on averaged between 2016 to 2018.

The average weight of prime carcases was 366kg, which is down from 350kg five years ago. This is above the average weight in the UK, which reflects the better carcase conformation and associated weights from the higher proportion of beef genetics. In Scotland, 69% of steers and 61% of heifers grade E, U or R, with a fat class of 3 or 4L.

Last year, an R4L steer in Scotland weighed on average 365kg, an R4L heifer 331kg and a –U3 young bull was 378kg. All of these carcases weighed around 3kg to 4kg less than in England and Wales. The average cow carcase weight was 350kg, with R4L cows typically weighing 388kg.

Young bull production in Scotland is still a small proportion, accounting for 6.4% of the annual cull with a peak of 13% of the kill in July.

The average age for slaughter is 21 months for females and 22 months for males. Two-thirds of males are slaughtered within 23 months, compared to just over half in England and Wales.