Farming: Science is the key to breeding

Scope to use many techniques. Picture: Getty

Scope to use many techniques. Picture: Getty

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The country’s beef and lamb sector must make better use of animal science if it is to improve efficiencies and meet the growing global demand for British beef and lamb.

English NFU vice-president Adam Quinney said there was huge scope to use genomics and other technologies to produce larger volumes of high-quality red meat in the UK, while also helping to improve efficiencies and profits.

Speaking at the English Beef and Lamb Executive (Eblex) annual conference this week, Quinney said making use of technological advances would also help improve its production practices, and therefore help the industry tackle environmental criticisms which were so often leveled at it.

“Whether you believe in it or not, ruminants are big targets in the climate change debate because they produce methane,” said Quinney. “It’s important we show we can use science and technology to reduce emissions so that we have robust evidence that we are taking the issue seriously.

“Improving our environmental footprint isn’t just about the amount of fuel being used. Using technological developments such as genomics will help us improve animal health, improve liveweight gains and reduce feed consumption, which will equal lower emissions.”

Rejecting claims that estimated breeding values did not work, Quinney said it was vital that more data was collected and shared about livestock so farmers could take steps to improve their herd or flock genetics.

“If we take information of 20 progeny from one bull, for example, we can have confidence in the genetic heritability and progeny from that animal,” he said.

“Equally there is scope to use genomics in sheep flocks to improve feet. We should be genetically testing rams so we can get rid of the ones which cause the most problems, rather than allowing them to go out and breed more.

“It’s not a quick fix – I was told changing the genetics of a herd takes 20 years – but pooling data and making better use of that information to inform our breeding choices is a valuable step.”

However, to make full use of the developments available, information had to be passed down the supply chain more easily and effectively, he added.

“Research has to be made more accessible, and accessible to the whole industry – regardless of sectors.

“Just because I’m a beef or sheep farmer doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be paying attention to developments in soil science. It is all linked and vitally important.”

Equally developments in the sectors did not solely have to focus on the latest technological advances, he said.

“Research is not just about expensive technology – it is about skills and making sure we have the right people in place.

“Having good research and people with the right skills gives credibility to everything we do in the production system, making our products more appealing to potential markets.”

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