Weekly genetics review: Which breed dominates beef production in the United Kingdom?

Jon Condon, 17/10/2017

UK Limousin bull


THE United Kingdom has provided some of the world’s most popular beef cattle breeds including Angus (they still call them Aberdeen Angus), Hereford and Shorthorn, plus a range of less popular breeds.

So which breeds are most popular in the UK’s beef industry today? Are they still the British breeds, or have other breeds taken over?

Most would say Angus or Hereford, but that’s wrong.

In the country where the breed originated, its interesting to note that Angus cattle do not dominate the UK beef industry as they now do in the US, Canada, Argentina and temperate regions of Australia.

The French Limousin breed is by far the most popular breed in the UK, and has held that position for the past 20 years. And ‘continental’ breeds fill four of the top five positions, based on percentage of annual commercial joinings.

In each of the past 20 years, Limousins have registered more calves as seedstock animals than any other breed. The British Limousin Cattle Society (BLCS) says the breed also dominates the UK’s commercial herd, claiming up to 30pc of the UK’s beef cattle are Limousin-influenced.

In 2016, the BLCS registered 19,000 pedigreed calves, the sixth consecutive year it topped the 19,000 mark.

Data published by the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) endorses the breed’s claims. The BCMS was set up to maintain a database of all cattle in the UK following the BSE crisis in the 1990s. All cattle in the UK are now carefully identified and all movements closely monitored.

In Australia last year, 6298 Limousin cattle were registered, putting the breed in ninth place in the breed hierarchy. In Britain they are registering three times that number annually.

Angus dominate Australian registrations with 70,076 in 2016, followed by Herefords with 25,257. Then come the tropical breed power-houses Brahman with 24,449, Santa Gertrudis with 17,423 and Droughtmaster with 11,386.

As Genetics Central has pointed out before, however, breed registrations can give a very distorted view of breed popularity. Unregistered herd bulls play a very big part in Northern Australia’s commercial bull battery. And as this spring’s northern Bos Indicus bull sales circuit has shown, a very popular option among larger-scale northern cattlemen is to go into the market to buy one or two absolute elite sires, to take home to use in their own herd bull multiplier herds, using selected females. None of those cattle are captured in registration records.

Also in 2016, the fast-expanding Wagyu breed claimed sixth spot on Australia’s registration list with 10,261 head.

The British Limousins, with 19,000 registrations a year, would sit in fourth place in Australia behind Angus, Hereford and Brahman.

Why is the Limousin breed so popular in the UK?

But why is the Limousin breed so popular in Britain?

At face value, much of it appears to be due to the nature of the UK beef industry, and domestic beef consumer preference:

  • Almost all beef production in the UK is off grass
  • As a general rule, marbling is not a highly sought-after trait in the UK beef market
  • Price signals reward higher carcase weight and muscling, at a young age
  • Demand for fat cover is moderate
  • Paddock and herd sizes are small, making growth rate an important commercial trait.

Added to that, breed-based commercial brand programs are less developed in the UK than they are either in the US or Australia.

All this adds up to a package that appears well-suited to Limousin cattle and their crosses, especially over British dams.

There also appears to be well-balanced attitude towards performance recording and showing.

The British Limousin Cattle Society claims to be a breed leader in the introduction of genomic driven estimated breeding values (known as GEBVs in the UK, the equivalent of our EBVs) for carcase traits, female fertility and calf survival. The breed is also at the forefront of feed efficiency testing.

At the more ‘traditional end’ of the ‘breed performance spectrum’, it proudly claims to have won 22 interbreed titles at the four major UK stud cattle shows in summer 2017 which exposes the breed to a wide audience.

BLCS chairman John Phillips said the breed had experienced increased demand for bulls accompanied by good clearance rates; it had consolidated market share and was a leader in breed improvement initiatives.

Sales of pedigreed Limousin in the past 12 months grossed $9.45 million (Australian dollars) with a top of 100,000 guineas, or $180,000 Australian (the highest price paid for a Euro bull in Australia this year was $160,000 for Simmental, Woonallee Los Angeles). The society gains a commission from each bull sold.

He said a survey of bull buyers in the UK indicated a 94pc approval rate for Limousin bulls.

Mr Phillips said the society placed emphasis on the needs of commercial beef producers especially for carcase and efficiency traits.

The British Cattle Movement Service’s 2016 joining data indicates that more than one in four beef herd joinings in the UK are to Limousin bulls or semen:


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  1. Wilson Moseki Thupeng, 14/02/2021

    Very useful information. I am interested in the profitability of the hereford-limousin cross

  2. Jonathan Hipwell, 21/10/2017

    I took one look at that photo and thought Yankee limo bull for sure… Glad to be proven right when reading through comments. Any astute limo breeder could spot that one a mile away…
    Overall a good article.

  3. Alison Glasgow, British Limousin Cattle Society, 21/10/2017

    Great to see this coverage and discussion beyond our shores and it is much appreciated. Efficiency has been the name of the game in the Limousin breed’s success in the UK. Producing cattle which consistently meet market specification for weight, age and grade is a fundamental driver of financial success, coupled with the breed’s proven ability to provide long-lasting, moderately-sized, highly-fertile commercial cows. Despite the breed’s dominance, however, the British Limousin Cattle Society and its members are not resting on their laurels. The Society is currently engaged in a 10-year plan of investment developing the breeding tools and genetics that will serve commercial users of the breed in the times to come. The investment cost is in excess of £5m GBP and draws in partners from all sectors of the supply chain. It is particularly relevant, given that the industry may experience more volatility in currency, input prices and commodity markets as the nature of our new post-Brexit relationships with Europe and global markets emerges. Please see our website for all news and activity.

    As an aside, we are very happy to supply a great picure of a UK-bred Limousin bull 😉

    Cheers Alison – we’ll take you up on your kind offer. As you possibly noticed, one of our readers, Bede McAlpin, picked up the oversight in the bull photo we used. Our photo files of British Limos aren’t all that abundant, we have to admit, but we did not take into account just how sharp-eyed Beef Central’s readers are. Heaven help us if we are ever writing about Limousins in Ecuador. Editor.

  4. Paul Franks, 19/10/2017

    Someone should take some Murray Grey’s over to the UK. I think they are a very underrated breed.

  5. John Devonport, 18/10/2017

    The main reason the breed is so popular in UK is because of the high slaughter dressing percentage and extraordinary meat yield which enhances profitability and makes economic common sense, especially when herd sizes are so small ….

  6. ken crotty, 18/10/2017

    It is interesting to note that 45% of cattle that competed in the 2017 Royal Queensland Show Led Steer Competition were Limousin or Limousin Cross.

    Interesting point from one of Brisbane Show’s “Living Legends.” It’s a point worth pondering, especially as the breed’s strong show results are spread across both hook and hoof sections. If they are so popular in show competitions, why don’t we see more Limousin-influenced cattle in the commercial industry? Could it be that feed cost etc is less of a consideration when feeding a single beast for a show, than it would be trying to finish a pen of 300 in a feedlot? Editor

  7. Bede Mcalpin, 18/10/2017

    Uk Limousin bull in photo???
    The Bull is EXLR Latigo- he is from Express Ranches in the US.

    Well spotted Bede – we’ll have to take your word for it. Editor

  8. Geoff Haack, 17/10/2017

    Real feed efficiency i.e. most actual saleable meat produced per kg of feed consumed hasn’t as yet been seriously considered, promoted or embraced here in Aust. If & when this becomes a serious efficiency issue the Limo breed will be more widely recognised as a leader in this field as in Britain.

  9. Paul D. Butler, 17/10/2017

    Nice article………..although what can be inferred? My own interpretation is that different environments need different adapted breeds. How to select the optimum breed for environment, management and marketing is NOT easy………still there is much to be gained it you are able to find the right genetics.

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