Beefing Up the Farming Sector
The UK beef sector has sales of over £7 billion annually, but there are schemes afoot to make it much more competitive. A lot of beef farming relies on traditional methods – not just of breeding and rearing cattle but of tracking the meat produced when the cattle are sent to the abattoir and how that fits the demands of a 21st-century marketplace.
Data analysis and new technology are maybe not the first words that spring to mind when you think of cattle farming, but new technologies and new ways of looking at information have been of great help to the dairy sector, and scientists are developing ways that beef farmers can also use modern methods to improve their business.
It is now possible to use new video imaging technology, introduced to abattoirs for the first time this year, to track not just the size and weight of cattle but the kinds of meat each cow yields. This in turn will allow farmers to decide which stock to breed from and which characteristics they need to enhance in their herds.
A Closer Look at Meat
Currently, most farmers will keep track of the size and weight of the animals they raise because the old industry payment method was based on the overall meat yield. The video imaging technology will allow 3D imaging and analysis of carcasses that have been cut in half and will give information about the cuts of meat and the fat content. This in turn would allow farmers to breed cattle which gave, for example, more sirloin meat. Sirloin meat is more expensive and sought after than brisket or silverside meat, and increasing the amount of sirloin available from a single animal would increase a farmer’s profitability.
The new technology allows for the recording of a considerable range of data – the feed efficiency of cattle, their health and general resilience to infection and disease as well as the kind and quantity of meat they produce. This data could be recorded across the offspring of many bulls and allow for a targeted breeding programme to ensure that specific characteristics were being bred for.
Does This Work?
About 50% of the UK dairy industry has been recording the performance of its animals in a similar way, which has resulted in dramatic increases in milk yields. Currently, only about 15% of beef farmers do a similar kind of data analysis. In order to be truly competitive, especially in the emerging markets of China and Asia, where meat eating is increasingly popular, the British beef industry needs to follow this lead. The government is keen to support this next step forward in farming technology. DEFRA believes that using the new video technology could give farmers a cost-effective and permanent way to improve the quality, and therefore profitability, of the meat they produce.