We’re jumping all the way to the end of the life-cycle here and talking carcase classification and what the letters and numbers, like R4L, actually mean.
When livestock are sold for meat, their carcases are graded at the abattoirs, based on their shape and fat cover, and the farmer selling them gets paid a set rate of so much per kilo of weight of the animal’s carcase. The payment rate depends on what grade the animal was given.
The grading and pricing for sheep and cattle are worked out from a grid called the EUROP Grid. It was introduced in 1981 to create a standard system for classifying carcases across the whole of Europe (but you’ve probably already guessed that from the letters!).
The letters refer to the visual confirmation of the animal. With E being a very well muscled animal, with well rounded, broad hindquarters, back, loin and shoulders. R being an average shape, with a fairly straight and flat body but still some muscling. And at the end of the spectrum is P, a very plain carcase with a concave profile (inward dips on the hindquarters and other areas of muscling). There’s actually also an S grade, which is the absolute best confirmation grade, standing for Superior, but I’ve never heard of a lamb or beef animal being graded as an S!
- S = Superior
- E = Excellent
- U = Very Good
- R = Good
- O = Fair
- P = Poor
- 1 = Low
- 2 = Slight
- 3 = Average
- 4 = High
- 5 = Very High
The fat classes can also be broken down further by adding an L or a H to each number, meaning the Low end of that fat class or the High end.
The grades are then written as the confirmation letter followed by the fat class. For example, R4L – which is usually the grade that gets the average price, with higher shaped grades getting rewarded with a bonus and worse ones getting deductions. The better shaped animals will have a higher percentage of saleable meat on the carcase, hence why they’re rewarded.
Usually, a fat class of 3 or 4L is what’s aimed for. The more fat there is, the less saleable meat there will be, but fat also equals flavour and prevents the meat drying out, so some is needed (but there’s no measure for eating quality in the current grading system, unfortunately).
With practice, you can learn to judge which grade live animals will get by eye and feel. It’s a talent to be able to get it right- it’s pretty amazing how some very experienced farmers can accurately judge the grades of a pen of cattle just by looking at them!
We tend to aim to breed cattle that will eventually grade as an R or a U for the farmers who go on to finish them for meat. An E would be a much more muscled animal than we produce!
There looks to be a couple of very well shaped calves in this year’s group though, so maybe they’ll hit the upper end of the U grade- although I’m not very good at judging cattle, I definitely need some more practice. I’ll pop some pictures below so you can see some examples of the different shapes and what grade I’m guessing they would end up as (don’t hold me to it though- it’s definitely a guess!).
One of our cow’s who takes after her dairy cow mother in the shape department, but is the mother of the U Grade calf above!