Bull beef has never been perceived as the best compared to that of steer or heifer meat in recent years, but fed, handled and treated correctly, it can be just as tender and flavoursome, if not more, so than it’s similarly bred counterparts, according to those in the know.

With the ability to finish up to six months younger than their castrated neighbours, bull beef and pure-bred at that, costs significantly less to produce. And, just as importantly these days, it produces less methane and is therefore better for the climate.

Add to that the fact that the price difference between steers and young bulls is not as much as it previously was and has been on a par, these young beefy boys are providing a win, win solution for hard pressed beef producers and finishers.

You only have to see the prices achieved for 10-12-month-old pure-bred Limousin bulls at Harrison and Hetherington’s Borderway Mart at Carlisle earlier in the summer, to see the benefits, with such animals regularly attracting a premium, and most selling between £1100 and £1500.

It’s pure-bred Limousin young bulls that sell the best at Harrison and Hetherington’s weaned calf sales at Carlisle, where Dumfriesshire breeders Peter Henshall and his daughter Karen, from Eaglesfield, regularly sell yearlings at well in excess of £1000 and to a top of £1530.

“There’s far more money in them selling them at this age, than taking them through to 18-20months to sell as pedigree bulls, when you think of the expense of feeding them for another six months, semen and genotype testing,” said Peter, who runs 80 cows in his Sarkshields herd from Eaglesfield.

On average, his young bulls are 10-12months of age when sold, which in recent weeks have been making more than £1200 per head when selling to finishers in the south.

Auctioneer, David Holliday also highlighted the increased demand for young bulls, and particularly Limousins.

“Prices have increased £200-£250 per head in recent months and nine times out of 10 it’s Limousins that top the market,” he said adding that the increase in finished young bull values at the abattoir has bolstered trade.

It’s Limousin young bulls that finisher John Roe from Coulbeck, Barrow in Humber, Lincolnshire, prefers to buy too as they produce the carcases demanded in the market place.

“I can get pure Limousin young bulls away quicker than any other breed or cross and they produce the best grades,” he said.

“They grow faster and have a higher meat yield. The best of the pure Limousin bulls will produce E2 and E3 and U2 and U3 grades at 400-420kg, which is just exactly what the processors are looking for and therefore attract premium prices of up to 25p per kg,” added John.

Ideally, he prefers to buy pure-bred Limousin young bulls, and if he can’t source enough of these, he looks for Limousin crosses out of British Blue or Limousin cross mothers. He also finishes a few Aberdeen-Angus crosses.

“I like to buy them in at seven to 10months of age and put them onto a beef nut ration and then introduce a home-made mix made up of bruised barley, maize silage, ruminant fat, molasses, minerals and soya,” he said adding that the ration costs £184 per tonne, which at 10kg per head per day works out at £2.20 per head per day.

“The bottom line is young bulls are far more efficient and finished at a younger age produce more buttery, flavoursome beef. They also greatly help cash flows,” said John.

The farm, which is made up of 400acres, grows 60 acres of maize and 182acres of barley, to feed and finish up to 500 head of cattle every year.

While most of his cattle are sold through ABP, the best three or four every week are selected for local butcher David Parkin, who is selling more beef than ever, from his two shops in Crowle, Lincolnshire and Epworth in Yorkshire, and young bull beef to a growing clientele looking for a lean, healthy, flavoursome product.

“We like young bulls because they reach maturity at a very young age and as a result produce tender, flavoursome beef that eats very, very well,” said David.

“If we buy steers, we find the meat is not nearly as tender, whereas the beef from young Limousin bulls is far better and it kills out at 65-67% and higher than any other breed or cross-bred.”

Such is the demand for young Limousin bull beef that 90% of his customer base now look for it, although David also buys in native-bred animals to satisfy his other clientele.

Sales have also increased significantly since lockdown at the end of March.

“Some weeks, I would sell double or even treble the amount of beef and it has been the same with lamb and pork, but it’s pure-bred Limousin young bull meat that sells the best and always kills out a treat,” added David who mostly buys his cattle privately at 12-13months of age at 600-650kg through John Roe.

Growing demand for Limousin cattle has also been seen in Ireland, where British Limousin Cattle Society council member David Hamill, said commercial and pedigree producers continue to see the benefit of the breed’s ease of fleshing and double muscling characteristics which in turn continues to command premium prices.

“Limousin cattle will always produce the best margins whether you are a suckled calf, store cattle producer or finisher, and, they produce the best killing out percentages for the butcher, which is why they will always top the market,” he said.