Age at slaughter trends in GB cattle

Friday, 2 December 2022

Age at slaughter is an important factor in cattle finishing enterprises. Not only does it contribute to the profitability of a system, it’s also a key metric in carbon footprinting. But, how do average ages compare? Data from the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) allows us to understand headline trends.

Trends in beef cattle

Looking at the distribution of slaughterings by age, BCMS data shows us that for beef males aged 12-30 months, slaughter numbers generally increase to a peak of around 22-23 months old. Numbers then decline beyond this age, but tick up again at 29 months, although this trend has softened over recent years (some of this will be to do with total supplies available as well as age trends). The uptick at 29 months potentially reflects producers wishing to avoid abattoir penalties for animals aged over 30 months.

chart showing distribution of monthly cattle slaughter by age in months GB - non dairy males

There is also a notable spike in slaughter numbers at 15 months old. This group is most likely occupied by more intensively finished young bulls, but some systems will finish steers at these ages (it is not possible to split out steers and young bulls in the data).

chart showing distribution of monthly cattle slaughter by age in months GB - non dairy females

For female beef cattle, the story is similar. Numbers steadily rise to a peak at around 22-23 months old, fall through the older ages and rise again at 29 months. The key difference in age profile when compared to males is the absence of a spike at 15 months.

What affects age at slaughter?

Slaughter age varies by cattle type, sex, breed, and finishing system. It is also influenced by buyer requirements, such as abattoir specifications. Policy and technological changes within industry can also play a role. Our international benchmarking work also shows how this varies by country.

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