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Farming beef cattle

There are over 1.5 million beef breeding cows in the UK, with a number of different pure beef breeds being reared. These include early-maturing British breeds, such as the Aberdeen Angus and the Hereford, and later-maturing continental breeds, such as the Limousin and the Charolais.

How are beef cattle kept?

Beef cattle are usually kept in either:

  • 'Extensive' grazing-based systems - where they're mainly kept in fields but may be housed for part of the year.
  • 'Intensive' indoor systems where, in some cases, they may be housed indoors their whole lives.

How is beef produced?

There are three main methods of beef production:

  • Suckled calf production - calves are reared by their mothers until they're weaned at around six to eight months, and then fattened ready for slaughter elsewhere.
  • Finishing systems - where animals are fed a diet to get them ready for slaughter.
  • Store production - where young animals are grown quite slowly, using relatively cheap home-grown crops.

Young bulls, steers (castrated bulls) and heifers (young females) can all be used in beef production. They're slaughtered at different ages and weights depending on what the buyers want.

Veal production

The beef and dairy industries have traditionally been linked, with unwanted calves from the dairy industry bought by beef farmers to be reared for beef. However, this situation has changed over the years, mainly because dairy calves haven't been considered to be of good enough quality to be reared for beef.

This has resulted in many of them being killed on-farm or transported to the continent for further fattening as veal, often in systems that wouldn't be legal in the UK. Since 2006, we've been working with a number of other organisations to encourage the use of these animals to supply the home beef market.

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