The conformation scores achieved by prime cattle kill during the final quarter of 2016 generally declined from the corresponding period in 2015 in Northern Ireland, according to the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC).

During the period October-December 2016 18.4% of price reported steers were awarded a U grade, back from 22.5% of steer carcass' in the same period in 2015.

The proportion of steers achieving an R grade was back by 1.2 percentage points between the two periods to account for 36.2% of the steer kill in the final quarter of 2016.

Meanwhile, the proportion of O grading steers in the price reported kill increased from 29.2% in the 2015 period to 33.5% in the 2016 period while the proportion of P grades increased by one percentage point year-on-year to account for 11.5% of price reported steers in the 2016 period.

According to the LMC, this general downward movement in the conformation scores achieved by the Northern Ireland steer kill may be due to a number of factors.

The unsettled and changeable weather last summer will have meant some cattle will have come off grass lighter than expected.

This appears to have carried through until slaughter with an average carcass weight of price reported steers of 350kg in the 2016 period, back 9kg from year earlier levels.

Price reported steers were also killed earlier during the 2016 period with an average age of slaughter of 768 days, back 29 days from the 2015 period when the average age at slaughter was 797 days.

This may have contributed to the decline in carcass weights year-on-year.

A relatively steady beef price during the final quarter of 2016 combined with a firm demand for cattle of Northern Ireland origin from the processors may have encouraged producers to slaughter cattle earlier and younger.