Beef farmers have a track record of responding to market signals and they will respond to early age at slaughter incentives if they are put in place, head of the Teagasc animals and bioscience department David Kenny has said.

Prof Kenny told the Cattle Association of Veterinary Ireland’s conference that farmers have already shaved 98 days off the time taken to finish bullocks from the suckler herd, equating to a feed saving of €25m at current feed prices, all the while decreasing farm emissions.

Carcase grades have remained similar over this time while the average deadweight rose by 3kg per head.

“The challenge is really to bring this forward now. It is going to require technical efficiency at farm level, good advice from ourselves but ultimately the industry itself is going to have to step up to the plate and send very clear market signals and support,” Kenny said.

“We know from the past that farmers will react very quickly to market signals if they are presented in a proper and clear fashion.”

There is potential for finishers to make more progress in reducing slaughter ages, as most heifers and steers are killed with fat covers beyond optimum slaughter specs.

Recent Teagasc research cited by Kenny shows 85% of heifers and 70% of steers are beyond a fat class of 3-.

“We know that 85% of heifers and about 70% of steers are killed at a carcase fat cover of greater than 3 – which is beyond the optimum essentially for most markets,” he said.

“More worryingly, about half of heifers and a quarter of the steers are above a carcase fat score of 4-, so overfat. And again, we do know that once animals start putting down significant amounts of fat on a carcase, their feed efficiency drops off completely.”