While a new research project involving Scotland's Rural College (SRUC) is aiming to improve U.K. production efficiency by enabling farmers to determine the optimum mature size for beef cattle and sheep, many of the research questions pertain to livestock production in other global regions.
Researchers from SRUC and AbacusBio International will study how different mature weights in both upland and lowland livestock affect issues such as herd fertility and business profitability.
The project, which has been jointly funded by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and Meat Promotion Wales (HCC), will then develop techniques and tools pedigree breeders and commercial farmers can use to ensure that they achieve the optimum mature weight for their enterprise.
SRUC professor Eileen Wall said, “More recently, we have been able to use a wide range of industry data sources to begin to see the variation in mature size in our livestock species across the U.K. This has fed into improvements in the national greenhouse gas inventory and helped benchmark where we are as an industry today. The project will explore some of the causes of the variations we see on the ground to inform where we could get to in the future with our red meat production.”
QMS director of industry development Douglas Bell said, “Breeding flocks and herds represent the backbone of lamb and beef production in Great Britain. It's long been recognized that the profitability of such enterprises is related to the productivity of the breeding population. Enterprise efficiency, however, relies on understanding the cost base as well as the output potential. It is for this reason that QMS, AHDB and HCC have identified assessing efficiency of breeding enterprises as an important area for their levy payers.”
For AbacusBio managing director and project lead Tim Byrne, slowing down the trend for larger livestock is vital.
He noted, “If we take the U.K. as a whole and we know that we have about 14 million sheep and 2 million cows, what happens to our industry if the weight of those animals keeps going up? We know that is the general trend and that growth rates are also rising, but we are not killing these animals any younger, [so] what are the implications of that?
"The benefits of bigger animals can quickly be diluted by increased on-farm costs," Byrne said. “This project will demonstrate exactly what producers should be trying to achieve to maximize their productivity and profitability.”
A key part of the study will be understanding the genetics of existing traits for growth and their relationship with the mature size of the breeding cows or ewes.
The project results will be available by the middle of next year.