Livestock farmers may well be sick to the back teeth of being told to improve levels of efficiency, but they have a long way to go when the difference between the top and bottom 25% of beef producers is anything between £50-£70 per head.

Add that to the fact that the majority of beef and dairy crossbreeds are finished on a 24-month system when consistent results show the highest margins are achieved from animals finished between 400 and 500 days and there is huge room for improvement.

According to the SRUC's Abby Moran, profit margins could be improved by as much as £700 per head purely by reducing the finishing time of an animal from 24 months to 12/13 months. This would not only double overall productivity but also have the added benefit of reducing greenhouse gashouse emissions by as much as 33%.

Speaking at the British Cattle Breeders Conference in Telford, she said these figures had been based on 1m cattle records from seven UK abattoirs between 2001 and 2013. During this time the average date at slaughter was 715days, producing a mean carcase weight of 325kg.

Holstein bulls were the earliest finished with 32,000 being slaughtered at around 500days compared to 7500 Limousin cross Holsteins and just 2500 Limousins at the same time.

Returns revolved around a base price of £3.66 per deadweight kg with carcases penalised if outside the 260-420kg range, and older than 30months.

Costs of production were based on figures of £1.06 per day during the summer and £1.18 during the winter with grass @£20 per tonne; silage@ £30/t; concentrates at £170/t and straw @£67/t.

Ms Moran said that the effect of reducing the finishing time even from 700 days to 600 days would be worth an extra £15m to the economy, and by reducing that further to 550days, would add £1bn to the economy while also cutting overall emissions by half.

“We have the potential to not only improve profitability but also productivity and reduce emissions. Optimal slaughter age is 12 months so aim to slaughter as soon as possible.”

Kim Matthews of the AHDB also highlighted the potential for improvement. “There are still far too many fat and poor conformation cattle being slaughtered. In 1995 just under 50% of carcases hit the target RUR-1-4L and in 2016 that figure was just 56.4%,” he said.

Further gains should be able to be made in the future too with some of the work being done on EBVs for carcase traits and feed efficiency.

EBVs for carcase traits have been developed based on abattoir carcase data, and in the case of the Limousin breed, also the animal's DNA to produce GEBVs, which in turn will see carcase EBVs available for some breeds within the next few months.

Alison Glasgow, technical manager of the Limousin Cattle Society said: “There are huge opportunities out there for producers which they were unable to grasp before. From March onwards, carcase EBVs will be available for 4000 bulls based on the GEBVs of their parents, and from May onwards, these will be available for the various bulls forward for society sales."

As a result, Limousin breeders can now use breeding values to select high performance genetics for a range of abattoir traits including age to slaughter, carcase weight and the six prime cuts – fillet, striploin, rump, topside, silverside and knuckle.

When the combined difference between all six cuts was examined, the difference in the retail value between the top and bottom third of animals again with the same weight and EUROP grade was in the region of £150 per head.

In addition, the research demonstrated that animals with top 1% genetics for age to slaughter had the potential to finish around six weeks faster than those in the bottom 1% simply by the fact they have inherited faster finishing genetics, which at £1.80 per day in finishing costs could be worth an £80 per head than their slower finishing contemporaries.