Blog: Beef Feed Efficiency – benefiting the environment and the bottom line

Monday, 29 November 2021

Kim Matthews, AHDB Head of Animal Breeding & Product Quality, explores how AHDB's investment in research is playing a crucial role in helping beef levy payers breed more efficient cattle, meeting the demands of their target markets.

Efficient and eco-friendly livestock production is increasingly coming under the microscope with farmers at the forefront of shaping their future. What is encouraging is that beef producers are making great strides in this area, engaging with the Beef Feed Efficiency Programme led by the AHDB and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), supported by funding from Defra.

Reducing feed costs can make a big difference to the bottom line of all beef businesses. Offering farmers the ability to do that without affecting performance is what the Beef Feed Efficiency Programme (BFEP) has been working to deliver.

Indeed, as part of the project we recently revealed that annual feed bills across the UK beef industry could be reduced by up to £12.5 million thanks to the development of a new selection index tool that will allow animals to be selected for feed efficiency. It will enable the rate of reduction of beef-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to be accelerated by 27 per cent over a 20-year period (when compared with measures already in place).

It’s a great example of some of the work AHDB does to offer practical support to levy payers – a cost-saving tool for beef farmers at this crucial time and, more importantly, to have identified the positive effect it will have on reducing GHG emissions for our industry.

This week we were delighted to showcase the BFEP activity to colleagues from Defra’s Farming, Analysis and Evidence team at host farm Greystones Farm, Caldwell, Richmond, North Yorkshire. It included a farm tour, where we saw cattle using the specialist feed bins to record individual feed intake, and a wider introduction to beef breeding and genetics.

Work undertaken on our behalf in 2015 demonstrated that genetic progress continues to deliver benefits to the UK beef industry, with an annualised return of between £1.9 million and £4.9 million.

Since then, AHDB has really been increasing its impact in the world of beef breeding and genetics, with the provision of breeding values for carcase traits through the National Beef Evaluations. In addition to the carcase traits currently available, our ongoing work will develop traits for maternal characteristics. We aim to launch the breeding values for feed efficiency on this platform after that, and then move on to add breeding values for resistance to TB (mirroring TB advantage published by AHDB Dairy Genetics).

In parallel with these developments, we are working with Defra, AbacusBio, SRUC and CIEL to explore options for increasing the positive impact of beef and sheep breeding in Great Britain. As well as examining the effect breeding can have in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we will investigate new approaches to improving data integration and use for genetic evaluation.

Research and development activity like this illustrates how some of the levy is invested and will continue to play a crucial role in helping levy payers in this sector breed more efficient cattle, meeting the demands of their target markets.

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