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Red Meat Contributing to Scottish Economy

08 September 2013

Quality Meat Scotland

Farming and processing of red meat makes a significant contribution to the Scotland’s economic output, according to the profile of the red meat sector in 2012 produced by Quality Meat Scotland.

Net of subsidy payments and excluding ancillary industries and further processing, the sector generated revenues of just over £2.1billion during 2012.

This was two per cent increase on the previous year.

However, with input costs rising, total value added is expected to have fallen and since the Scottish economy expanded by 0.3 per cent in 2012, this meant the red meat sector contributed slightly less to the economy than in 2011, taking an estimated 0.7 per cent share of GDP.


Scottish abattoirs slaughtered 414,800 prime cattle during 2012 - 10 per cent below the previous year’s figure of 460,200 head.

However, the report says that slaughterings of mature cows and bulls increased in 2012, as 65,400 older cattle were killed compared to 63,600 killed in 2011.

This three per cent rise took throughputs of older cattle to their highest level since the mid-90s.

In 2012, the overall number of cattle killed at Scottish abattoirs and entering the food chain was 480,200 head - an 8 per cent year-on-year decline.

Average Carcase Weights

In 2012, the average prime cattle carcase weighed 3kg heavier than in the previous year. However, they were still 2kg lighter than in 2010.

While all three categories of prime cattle were on average heavier than in the previous year, cows were marginally lighter.

However, these annual average figures mask a significant change in carcase weights as the year progressed. Early in 2012, strong prices and lower feed costs had encouraged producers to increase cattle weights and the average prime cattle carcase weighed close to 360kg.

By contrast, slower growth rates due to the effects of bad weather on the quality and quantity of available feed meant that carcase weights averaged 10kg lighter than their annual average during the final quarter of 2012.

Scottish abattoirs produced 14,000 fewer tonnes of beef in 2012 than in the previous year. As carcase weights averaged higher than in the previous year, this partially offset the decline in throughput to leave overall production volumes down by 7.5 per cent.

During the year, the distribution of kill by gender change. Steers and heifers are dominant throughout, averaging 80 per cent between them in 2012, but this fell to three-quarters in the summer months when young bull throughputs peaked.

The share of the total kill by gender held pretty stable in 2012. Steer and young bull slaughterings averaged 45 per cent and seven per cent of the kill, an identical share to the previous year. However, as heifer throughput fell furthest, its share slipped by one percentage point to 35 per cent. By contrast, with the cow kill higher than in 2011, its share of the total cattle kill increased from 12 per cent in 2011 to 13 per cent in 2012.

QMS cattle supply

Age of Prime Cattle at Slaughter

Since the decoupling of subsidy payments in January 2005, there has been a change in the age pattern of prime male cattle being delivered to abattoirs.

The curve is flatter than in the past, as producers have been encouraged to sell some of their steers at a slightly younger age since there is no longer an incentive to keep steers until 22 months of age.

The slight bias in the curve towards younger cattle in 2012 may reflect producers’ response to rising feed costs and slower growth rates during the second half of the year, the report says.

In general, there has been little change in the slaughter age profile of female cattle since decoupling. However, in 2012 farmers sold their heifers at slightly younger ages than in the previous two years.


In 2012, Scottish abattoirs killed 151,000 fewer lambs than in the previous year. With throughput totalling 1.34 million, it was down 10 per cent on the year and slipped to a seven year low.

The principal contributor to the annual decline was that lambs came forward much more slowly in the second half of the year due to the wet weather.

Indeed, after a slow start to the year, slaughter numbers had trailed year earlier levels by less than one per cent at the end of June, with new season lambs initially in higher supply than at the beginning of the 2011/12 season.

Supplies were 17 per cent short of year earlier levels in the second half of the year.

Average Carcase Weights in Scotland

The average lamb carcase in 2012 was fractionally heavier than a year earlier, at 20.3kg. However, carcase weights fell back significantly in the second half of the year as growth rates slowed.

A large decline in both lamb and mature sheep throughput saw overall sheep meat production at Scottish abattoirs fall by 10 per cent on the previous year to 28,000 tonnes.

QMS sheep supply

Carcase Quality

Just over 62 per cent of the 2012 GB lamb crop achieved at least an R3L grading.

This was around 0.5 percentage points lower than in the previous year and more than two percentage points down on the 2010 lamb crop.

With reduced availability and quality of forage during the autumn of 2012, carcase quality trailed year-earlier levels.

However, this reversed in the New Year despite both early 2012 and 2013 being characterised by a long tail-end of hoggs. Carcase quality was higher in spring 2013 as many hogs were only just reaching adequate slaughter weights, whereas in the previous year many had been taken to heavier weights.


The number of pigs slaughtered at Scottish abattoirs has been significantly affected by industry restructuring over the past couple of years.

Whereas the addition of a slaughtering plant in September 2011 boosted production, as fewer pigs needed to be transported to England for slaughter, this reversed in the final quarter of 2012 as the largest abattoir ceased operating.

The total number of clean pigs killed at Scottish abattoirs during 2012 was 581,500 head, 7.5 per cent lower than in 2011. However, this was still higher than the 574,000 figure for 2010.

QMS Pig Supply

Average Carcase Weights in Scotland

The average carcase of a prime pig weighed 1.2kg lighter than in 2011.

Likely factors were higher feed costs and poorer feed availability, which are likely to have encouraged producers to have presented their pigs for slaughter at younger ages and/or lighter weights.

Scottish Red Meat Abattoir Sector

Thirty-four licensed red meat abattoirs operated in Scotland during 2012, two fewer than in 2011. Of this total, 25 sites processed cattle, 25 processed sheep, and 21 processed pigs.

During the year, some 2.51 million animals were processed by Scottish abattoirs, a decrease of 6 per cent on 2011.

Scottish Abattoir Output

It is estimated that the total turnover of the primary processing sector during 2012 fell by £4.5 million, or 0.4 per cent, to £1.05 billion. An estimated net reduction in staff numbers by 150 meant that the average number of people employed by the sector in 2012 is thought to be approximately 4,050.

However, the year-end figure will have been lower following plant closures in the final quarter of the year.

Though fewer prime cattle were killed in Scottish abattoirs during 2012, this was partially offset by an increased kill of mature animals and heavier average carcase weights. Nevertheless, production volumes declined by 7.5 per cent.

However, due to tight supplies, beef became a more expensive commodity and this resulted in turnover rising by 4.5 per cent to £687 million.

Despite a 10 per cent decline in production, sheep processors managed to grow their revenues slightly compared to the previous year. This was down to improved revenues in the first half of the year, when sheep meat had been valued much higher than in early 2011.

Restructuring within the pig processing sector led to a sharp decline in the volume of pig meat produced by Scottish abattoirs in 2012.

Although pig meat was more expensive than in 2011, higher unit prices were unable to offset the fall in production and overall revenues declined.

Sales of skins and hides were worth an estimated £27.5 million to Scottish red meat processors in 2012.

Scottish Abattoir Sector Scale

The cattle processing sector is more evenly spread in terms of capacity than the sheep or pig sectors. There are a number of medium-sized plants working with cattle, whereas sheep and pig processors tend to be either very small or very large.

During 2012, the five largest abattoirs in the cattle and sheep sectors increased their share of production, whereas it eased back amongst pig processors.

The share of the kill in the 10 smallest abattoirs increased across the three species, as a number of smaller plants stopped killing stock.


 September 2013


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