Beef genetics could help farmers’ profitability

The Department for Environment & Food Rural Affairs (Defra), in conjunction with the Farm Animal Genetic Resources (FAnGR) Committee, has released a report revealing the potential profitability that can be generated for farmers via beef genetics.

The report highlights that despite being difficult to capitalise upon, due to the fragmentation of the beef sector, where value-driven innovation has occurred “there is sound evidence to show that it can have a dramatic and positive effect on performance and profitability”.

According to the paper, where genetic improvements have taken place in other livestock species, there has been a dramatic improvement in the production efficiency. Considering the success seen in other species, there is no reason why this shouldn’t also occur within the beef industry.

Following a summit considering the state of the British beef sector, held last year by the UK government, the conclusion was that a better use of genetics could provide the beef business with greater profitability and opportunities.

Capitalising on this prospect, the FAnGR Expert Advisory Committee was asked to produce a set of government and industry recommendations that could bring about improvements throughout the supply chain.


A key aspect of improving profitability within the industry is to improve the coordination of ideas. The report highlights that the level of collaboration, feedback and sharing of data throughout the supply chain hasn’t been of the standard it should be.

“Without market feedback, animals may be less competitive in the marketplace. If a greater level of collaboration could be fostered across the industry to achieve beef animal genetic improvement, informed by market requirements, substantial increases in the efficiency of beef production in the UK could be achieved.”

If data collected by separate initiatives was interlinked, it could further progress improving overall efficiency.

Recommendation: Establish a joint UK strategy (across government and industry) for converging elements of existing recording systems for cattle to enable readily shared data collection and use.


Naturally, animal feed accounts for a high expenditure to the farmers. It makes sense that small changes would result in positive impacts for the profitability and greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of product. Over recent years, the pig and poultry industry have experienced a noteworthy increase in production due to genetic improvement in feed efficiency.  

“Of obvious importance in beef cattle, the challenges of large-scale recording of feed intake in individual cattle has not yet been successfully achieved in the UK.”

Since January of this year, AHDB has been leading a four-year project worth over £1m that is aimed at establishing an industry standard for recording feed intake in the UK. It also hopes to produce a network of industry-embedded cattle performance-recording facilities and to create a collaborative supply chain approach that will deliver improved feed efficiency.

Recommendation: Government should continue to support this industry-led initiative to develop a national network of units for recording feed efficiency and thus establish a lasting business model that creates more industry-led facilities for measuring feed intake.


Technological advances could allow for the beef industry to make dramatic enhancements. The dairy sector is already taking advantage of such systems, with breeding companies using new approaches to select better-performing cattle. Around half of new inseminations are from cattle with only genomic evaluations.

“One industry-led project (involving ABO, the British Limousin Cattle Society and SRUC) is already under way to generate value from using genomics in the genetic prediction for retail value of the carcase using enhanced imaging (VIA) in the abattoir. This is expected to be rolled out to the Limousin breed during 2015.”

Last year AHDB Beef & Lamb (formerly Eblex) commissioned a review about the value that genetic improvement in the beef and sheep industry could bring to the sector, and the potential benefits of using genomics within the industry. The report, which members of the FAnGR contributed towards, focused on three main areas:
•    Financial profits of breed improvement.
•    Strengths and weaknesses in the UK regarding the current structure of breed improvement services exploiting new techniques.
•    How genomic technologies can aid the UK beef and sheep sectors.  

Other areas that the Defra and FAnGR report focuses on are:
•    Supermarket and processor schemes
•    A proposed new grading scheme
•    Gathering abattoir data

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