HCC events highlight the value of genetic improvement for farming businesses

A number of key considerations and practical measures can influence and improve the genetics of cattle and sheep to stop livestock from literally eating into profits.

This was the message conveyed to agriculture students and producers in mid Wales who enjoyed the company of genetic experts at recent events staged by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC).

Genetic improvement is integral to increasing the sustainability and cost effectiveness of beef and sheep production and can add value to herds, flocks and businesses. Three knowledgeable speakers demonstrated how this can be achieved by sharing practical pointers which can be applied to a working farm.

NPTC Group’s Newtown Campus was the setting for the evening meeting which formed part of the ON-Farm 2016 initiative to develop, showcase and share HCC’s industry development work. This includes supporting a number of research projects with a view to enhancing the profitability and sustainability of the red meat sector in Wales.

HCC’s Gwawr Parry said: “HCC supports a wide variety of research projects covering sheep, cattle and grassland, and the purpose of the latest events in Newtown was to share some of the latest research findings and best practice for farmers.

“The speakers covered a range of research topics, all related to genetic improvement of beef and sheep. With tupping time upon us, it was timely that ram fertility was also on the agenda.”

Local vet, Oliver Hodgkinson of Trefaldwyn Vets outlined a number of practical steps that should be carried out before rams are turned out to the ewes to achieve better results. These include considering the condition score of a ram, checking the size of testicles, monitoring rams’ libido, ensuring the correct ratio of ewes per ram, and building a history so that poor performing rams can be identified.   

Dr Kirsty Moore from Scotland’s Rural College stated that the value of genetic improvement to the beef industry is £4.9 million/year. The research she undertook in this field looked at producing EBVs for carcase traits using BCMS and abattoir data. These carcase traits included carcase weight, conformation and fat, and it also became apparent that age at slaughter is an important trait that should be considered to boost herd profitability.

“The industry can make very real gains by focusing on the age at slaughter and getting animals to slaughter earlier,” said Dr Moore.

HCC Scholar, Dr Eleri Price outlined her PhD work and scholarship findings on breeding for better meat eating quality. Her scholarship investigation looked at genetic selection for lamb meat yield and quality in New Zealand and Australia where progeny testing allows the farmer to make informed breeding decisions. She found that buying recorded rams and using data to achieve specification will also enhance meat eating quality.

Local beef and sheep producer Hywel Davies from Dolfor near Newtown attended the meeting and said: “The fact that countries like Australia and New Zealand are looking at taste, which is a vital part of the food we produce, is important. We need to concentrate hard on looking after the consumer to make sure they get exactly what they require.”

Gwawr Parry added: “The feedback we received from the students and producers was extremely positive. We hope that the research will be put into practice and that the experts’ practical advice will be implemented on-farms across mid Wales, resulting in positive benefits for the industry.”