Christmas challenges for carcase balance

As the Christmas season approaches, the challenges that processors face in achieving carcase balance is brought into the spotlight. 

According to Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), evidence from retail sales analysis shows that there is not a significant lift in the volume of beef sold. However, it does show that the products bought alter.

“What we see over the Christmas period is that sales of beef mince and steak decline, while sales of roasting joints and stewing meat increase,” said Stuart Ashworth, head of economics services with QMS.

“Similarly, there is a growth in demand for leg roasts of lamb offset by a decline in sales of shoulders and lamb chops.”

Ashworth highlighted that this doesn’t widely vary from the carcase balance challenge at any other time of the year, with the exception of particular cuts in surplus changing.

“Meeting the demand for roasting cuts can often mean cold stores filling with unsold mince and in the retail market there is little evidence of beef selling at premium prices over the Christmas and New Year period.

“Hence provided there are enough cattle and sheep to meet the demand for roasting cuts, there is little incentive for processors to pay more.”

The amount of cattle reaching the market is slightly below that of last year’s levels. However, as a result of the increased carcase size and challenges with international currency in export markets, the UK marketplace remains well supplied with beef.

Additionally, because the supply of lamb has decreased on the levels of last year, lamb prices have risen in recent weeks. Despite this, levels have not yet risen to the those of last year because of challenges in export markets.

Traditionally, the timeframe in the run up to Christmas tends to produce increased prices for show livestock which involves a small number of animals in which a considerable amount of time and energy is spent to turning them out for special sales.

Yet contradicting this, market analysis of market during the Christmas season in recent years has revealed there has not been many significant lifts in prices.

“The reality is that cattle prices currently trail around 10 -12p/kg deadweight lower than last year and, while prime lamb sellers have seen prices rise in the past month, they still trail year earlier levels by around 20 p/kg livewight,” added Ashworth.

It was noted that over the past couple of years the second week of December recorded a small peak in prime lamb prices, but the price movements in January overtake those of December.

“It is increasingly hard to detect any major influence of Christmas demand on prime cattle prices. In three of the past five years there was a small peak in prime cattle price in the final week of November and the first week of December while in the other two the price continued to rise from November into the early months of the following year.”

Ashworth continued to observe that the trading period over Christmas time is driven by the normal trading influences of the red meat trade. This includes the maturing period for beef, the general availability of livestock and consumer demand.

“It is, for example, recognised that premium eating quality is achieved from beef that has matured for 21 to 28 days. This pushed the slaughter date for beef to meet this market specification at Christmas into the final week of November and the first week of December.

“Sheepmeat does not need to mature for as long a period hence any price rise is likely to be seen in the second week of December.”

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