Ever-larger farm livestock have now joined overweight humans and plump pets as an unwanted 21st Century development.
British livestock still have some way to go before they reach the super-size scale of Knickers, the Australian steer which has become an internet sensation, but according to the leader of a new research project which aims to improve production efficiency, the trend of carrying bigger livestock on British farms needs to be slowed down.
Tim Bryne, the managing director of international farm consultants AbacusBio, questions what will happen to the livestock industry if the weight of the UK’s 14 million sheep and two million cows keeps on rising.
He said: “We know that is the general trend and that growth rates are also rising, but we are not killing these animals any younger – what are the implications of that?”
“The benefits of bigger animals can quickly be diluted by increased on-farm costs.
“This project will demonstrate exactly what producers should be trying to achieve to maximise their productivity and profitability.”
The project will help farmers determine the optimum size of the
cattle and sheep they keep and Mr Bryne will work alongside Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) to study how different mature weights in both upland and lowland livestock affect issues including herd fertility and business profitability.
The project will then develop techniques and tools which pedigree breeders and commercial farmers can use to achieve the optimum mature weight for their enterprise.
Quality Meat Scotland’s industry development director, Douglas Bell, pointed out that while flocks and herds represent the backbone of lamb and beef production in Great Britain, the profitability of such enterprises is related to the productivity of the breeding population.
He added: “Enterprise efficiency, however, relies on understanding the cost base as well as the output potential.”
A key part of the study will be understanding the genetics of existing traits for growth, and their relationship with mature size of the breeding cows or ewes.
The research is being financed by the ring-fenced fund of AHDB red meat levies being used for collaborative projects which is managed by the three GB meat levy bodies.
The project results will be available by the middle of next year.