A recent scoping study showed that continued selection of purebred beef cattle using the currently available tools will deliver a substantial positive impact on the economic and environmental sustainability of beef cattle production in the UK. At the current rate of uptake, ten years of selection considered over a twenty year time horizon is expected to result in a cumulative increase in profit at the commercial farm level of around £31M, whilst also reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by around 726,000 tonnes.
Recording feed intake to enable feed efficiency to be included in selection indices is expected to increase the realised benefits in farm level profit by around 39% and in GHG reduction by around 22%.
Genetic improvement will play a pivotal role in developing sustainable beef production systems. It is particularly cost-effective, producing permanent and cumulative changes in performance. Improving adoption, and continued development, of genetic improvement tools will help farmers be more efficient and profitable, while reducing the impact of beef production on the environment.
Project Objectives and Implementation
This project, led by AHDB (The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board) and SRUC (Scotland’s Rural College) will bring together an industry-wide consortium to deliver a lasting infrastructure for the measurement of feed efficiency in beef cattle and its incorporation into breed improvement programmes.
The main elements of the project will be:
• Agreeing industry-wide protocols for:
– measuring feed efficiency
– taking and storing tissue samples for potential future genomic analysis
• Defining a “blueprint” for feed efficiency recording facilities on commercial farms
• Installation of facilities for measuring feed efficiency on commercial finishing units
• Collection of data on around 1800 cattle during the project
• Determination of genetic parameters for efficiency traits in one breed. This is the basic analysis required for the inclusion of the efficiency traits in breeding programmes
• Establishing a network of farms for national feed intake recording
• Developing a set of possible business models for the continued recording of feed efficiency after the project ends.
The project will leave a legacy of the tools required for the whole UK beef industry to adopt breeding for feed efficiency.
The project will be implemented in two distinct phases:
1. Pilot trials to be held at SRUC, Edinburgh (approx. 500 records to be captured)
Cattle will undergo quarantine, acclimatisation and then feed intake recording for 17 weeks in total. Hoko bins will enable the measurement of feed intake using weigh cells within the troughs. At the end of the trial it is expected that the cattle will be moved to alternative housing for further finishing prior to slaughter. Ideally, slaughter data on carcase yield and grade will be collected and added to the genetic evaluation.