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U.K. project to integrate calf, carcass imaging

Project to improve accuracy of carcass grading and link data back to farm so producers can optimize nutrition and selection.

A new research and development project involving the U.K. beef industry, scientists and precision engineering companies aims to enhance returns for beef producers while helping processors become more efficient.

OPTIBEEF will drive improvements in the productivity, quality and the sustainability of beef production by improving the accuracy of current methods of abattoir carcass grading and creating the first platform for integrating data from "calf to carcass," according to an announcement from the Agri-EPI Center, on behalf of OPTIBEEF partners.

The lead partner is HallMark Veterinary & Compliance Services, which recently acquired Meat & Livestock Commercial Services Ltd., the U.K.’s independent carcass classification business. HallMark will work with Scotbeef, the Scotland's Rural College, Innovent Technology Ltd., National Physical Laboratory, Harbro, Hectare Agritech, Ritchie Ltd. and Agri-EPI Centre to deliver OPTIBEEF over the next three years.

In the abattoir, the OPTIBEEF system will use new technology — 3D imaging and fat sensing — to provide a more accurate and detailed measurement of carcasses and their components, the announcement said. On-farm technologies will be developed for whole-life monitoring of individual animals, including advanced 3D cameras, novel fat sensing, automated weighing and feed intake recording.

The integration of the data gathered on the farm and in the abattoir will shed more light on the factors influencing carcass yield and will drive improvements in product quality and consistency, the partners said. Using this information, farmers will, in turn, be able to make informed decisions to optimize nutrition, health, welfare, slaughter selections and genetic selections.

“The established, manual method of classifying carcasses relies entirely on human judgment. It is becoming increasingly challenging to recruit and train enough staff, and that process can take a year. So, the development of automated classification technology -- as a supplement to our current services -- will allow us to maintain service levels to customers, with the objective if continual improvement. A dual approach embracing new technology will provide a robust way forward to meet industry challenges," HallMark chairman David Peace said.

“The on-farm element of the project is about ensuring that livestock are arriving at the abattoir at the optimum point, reducing the number of animals that don’t, at the point of slaughter, meet processors’ specifications. This will, in turn, optimize returns for producers by helping them be more selective on farm, leading to greater efficiencies through processing facilities," Peace added. "The project will also target the ability to predict yield of primal cuts -- something the industry has wanted for a very long time.”

The three-year project has been awarded funding of £1.7 million from U.K. Research & Innovation through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund as part of a package to support "Productive & Sustainable Crop & Ruminant Agricultural Systems."

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