AHDB BEEF & LAMB
Welcome to the second edition 1
What we learnt about mastitis in ewes 2
How to deal with Cryptosporidiosis 3
Understanding digital dermatitis in beef cattle 3
Maximising forage in ewe diets 4
How much protein should be fed to ewes in late
pregnancy and during lactation? 4
The role of nutrition during pregnancy on heifer
lifetime productivity 5
High confidence in grass and clover lists even at lower
nitrogen levels 6
What is the impact of ration type and feed additives
on methane output? 7
Improving the National Methane Inventory 7
Enhancements to the genetic evaluation of Stabiliser cattle 8
Inbreeding tools for sheep and beef producers 8
Lifetime growth patterns in beef cattle 9
Straw pads for beef cattle 10
Identification and mitigation of environmental impacts of
outwintering cattle on grassland sacrifice areas 11
Novel ways of detecting sheep with ovine
pulmonary adenocarcinoma 12
Unravelling the aetiology of contagious ovine digital dermatitis 12
Sustainable control of parasites 13
Animal Health Research Club 13
Updating metabolisable energy requirements for sheep 14
Feeding the ewe 14
Developing grazing systems for beef producers 15
Reviewing beef nutritional standards 15
What is SARIC? 16
Integrating beef into arable rotations 16
Evaluating the performance, health and welfare of beef
cattle on a range of larger finishing units in England 17
Validating key performance indicators 17
Beef Feed Efficiency Programme 18
RamCompare – Abattoir activity 19
Combined Breed Analysis for terminal rams 19
Online tool for Recommended Grass and Clover Lists 20
Developing beef expertise 20
Centre of Innovation Excellence in Livestock 21
Livestock industry data exchange hub 21
Other Current Projects 22
R&D Process 24
Contact the Team 25
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This publication is available from our website at beefandlamb.ahdb.org.uk
Any enquiries related to this publication should be sent to us at
AHDB Beef & Lamb, Stoneleigh Park, Kenilworth, Warwickshire CV8 2TL.
AHDB Beef & Lamb is part of the Agriculture and Horticulture
Photo acknowledgements: Moredun, Liverpool University, South Devon Society,
ADAS Ltd, IBERS, University of Warwick, Kate Phillips
WELCOME TO THE SECOND
EDITION OF THE AHDB
BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW
This report provides a summary of the research that the organisation is carrying out on behalf of levy
payers and includes key findings of completed projects and updates on ongoing research.
AHDB Beef & Lamb funds around 25 research
projects a year covering five key areas: health
and welfare, nutrition, genetics, meat quality
and sustainable systems of production.
The cost of the research ranges from £250 to
£250,000 and practical outcomes that the industry
can adopt are the main aim of the work the
organisation funds. However, some underpinning
research is also funded and a committee made up of
board members is tasked with agreeing all the new
projects to be undertaken.
transfer so that industry can reap the full benefits of
the research being carried out.
I hope you enjoy reading about the work AHDB Beef
& Lamb is doing for the industry, but this is by no
means everything. For information on all the activity
we are carrying out and for resources based on
some of our previous research, have a look online at
AHDB Beef & Lamb sector chair
AHDB Beef & Lamb’s funding of PhD studentships
has also proved incredibly important again in the
past year, with high quality research being carried
out at the same time as training new people ready
to enter the industry.
It is an interesting time in agricultural research as
we begin to see the influence of the Centre for
Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL), which
came into being at the beginning of 2016. There is
a move towards a knowledge partnership approach
that involves integrating research and knowledge
AHDB BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW INTRODUCTION | 1
HEALTH AND WELFARE
WHAT WE LEARNT ABOUT MASTITIS IN EWES
A research project conducted by the University
of Warwick spanning two breeding seasons has
highlighted the importance of knowing a flock’s
udder health status. The project findings will
help inform producers’ culling decisions and raise
awareness of the conditions that cause udder
lumps to develop.
Udder lumps are abscesses, formed by bacteria, which can
rupture, disperse and reform as another abscess elsewhere
in the udder. Acute mastitis, infection from another ewe,
traumatic teat lesions and feeding insufficient energy in
lactation were all found to be leading causes.
During the study, the udders of nearly 5,000 pedigree and
commercial ewes were scored over two breeding seasons,
a total of four times – four weeks before lambing and nine
weeks after giving birth – over two consecutive years.
Researchers looked at each ewe’s teat position, teat angle
and udder drop, and udders were also examined for lumps.
The findings showed that acute mastitis was more likely in
ewes that had:
• Poor udder conformation
• Teat lesions
• Received inadequate nutrition in pregnancy
• Fed twins or triplets.
Results also showed that older ewes were more prone
to acute mastitis. Ewes that had acute mastitis were
significantly more likely to have a lump in the udder when
examined later in the same lactation.
The research found that, once first detected, udder lumps
were not always present on subsequent examinations but,
if a ewe had a lump in her udder at an examination, she was
more likely to have a lump in the future than ewes that had
not displayed any symptoms. In addition, the higher the
percentage of ewes in a flock with lumps during pregnancy,
the higher the number of ewes with lumps in lactation,
suggesting that the infection is passed within the flock.
The udder conformation of the majority of ewes in the
study was very good for suckling lambs and for maintaining
udder health, preventing teat lesions, udder lumps and
mastitis. Udders with big or extremely positioned teats and
droopy udders were linked to an increase in teat lesions,
udder lumps, acute mastitis or slower growing lambs. This
occurred more in older ewes, so these observations could
help inform culling decisions.
The project highlights the continued need for udder
conformation to be part of the consideration when making
culling decisions. It also highlights the fact that mastitis is a
flock disease rather than just an individual’s disease, so the
next steps are to look at reducing transmission within
Louise Whatford is an AHDB Beef & Lamb funded PhD
student at Warwick University and will be investigating ways
of reducing cases of mastitis, for example, through improved
hygiene or feeding. She will be attending shows and events
in the next few years to explain her work. A BRP+ document
Understanding Mastitis in Sheep, based on the research
project, is available at beefandlamb.ahdb.org.uk
HEALTH AND WELFARE
HOW TO DEAL WITH CRYPTOSPORIDIOSIS
Cryptosporidiosis is one of the most common
causes of calf scour in the UK. It is caused by a
parasite called Cryptosporidium and is usually
seen in young calves less than six weeks old.
Calves become infected with Cryptosporidium
when they ingest the parasite’s eggs, which reside
in the environment in bedding, pasture, soil and
This PhD, undertaken at the Moredun Research Institute,
aimed to determine the type of Cryptosporidium found in
calves in the UK and assess the role that adult cattle play in
the transmission of the parasite.
The study found that in calves less than nine weeks
old, the most common species of Cryptosporidium was
Cryptosporidium parvum (C. parvum), with all the affected
calves being infected within the first two weeks of life.
Clinical signs, including severe diarrhoea, tended to occur
in calves less than four weeks of age and by six to seven
weeks of age many of the infected animals showed no
signs of infection, even though they were still shedding
Cryptosporidium eggs. This suggests that the mixing
of calves of different age groups should be avoided to
prevent the older calves infecting the younger ones.
Adult cattle were also found to be shedding
Cryptosporidium intermittently. C. parvum was found
to be the most predominant species being shed and
highlights that adult cattle have the potential to be
an important source of infection for other susceptible
hosts such as calves. However, one study found adult
cattle shedding different subtypes of C. parvum to the
ones affecting calves, suggesting that they may not be
the source of infection. It was concluded that the lack
of symptoms seen in older calves and adult cattle when
carrying the disease was related to their age rather than
the development of immunity due to prior infection.
Due to the success of this work, another studentship
has been funded by AHDB Beef & Lamb, at the Moredun
Research Institute, which will look at how transmission
of Cryptosporidium to young calves can be reduced and
determine the economic impact of the disease on the
long-term health and performance of beef calves.
UNDERSTANDING DIGITAL DERMATITIS
IN BEEF CATTLE
Digital dermatitis (DD) is an infectious condition
of the foot. The disease can be painful and causes
severe lameness in infected animals.
Bovine digital dermatitis (DD) in dairy cattle has now been
reported in most countries where they are farmed, and
DD in sheep, known as contagious ovine digital dermatitis
(CODD), is rapidly emerging. The primary causative agent
for DD is thought to be the bacteria, treponemes, with
large quantities being found in DD lesions.
Over the past 40 years, research has focused on DD in
dairy cattle with very little information being available
regarding the signs, prevalence and treatment of DD in
beef cattle. Therefore, AHDB Beef & Lamb funded a PhD at
Liverpool University to investigate the cause, transmission
and carriage sites of the disease in beef cattle.
The same treponeme bacteria responsible for DD in
dairy cattle were also found to be responsible for DD in
beef and sheep. This highlights potential problems with
cross-species contamination, particularly on livestock
farms where both cattle and sheep are farmed together.
The study also investigated possible routes of transmission
for the disease, finding live DD treponeme bacteria in the
gastrointestinal tract of sheep. This suggests that a small
number of cattle and sheep could act as reservoirs for the
disease; these animals would not necessarily show any
symptoms but would be spreading the treponeme bacteria
into the environment through their faeces.
Hoof trimming equipment was found to be an important
transmission route for the disease. This equipment often
comes into direct contact with the body part infected with
the bacteria and, therefore, contamination is likely. This
highlights the importance of disinfection and hygiene
practices on farm.
Ten research papers have been produced as part of this PhD,
which means the information will be picked up by other
researchers and advisers.
AHDB BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW COMPLETED PROJECTS | 3
MAXIMISING FORAGE IN EWE DIETS
Many producers are starting to harvest new
conserved forages for ewe diets and have
questions about how to feed it, the quantities
ewes are able to eat and any impacts this may
have on ewe or lamb performance.
The recommended amount of forage a ewe will eat is based
on the Agriculture and Food Research Council (AFRC 1993)
data and many producers and advisers report that ewes
are able to eat more than the quoted amounts of 1.5-2%
of bodyweight in late pregnancy. If quantities are higher,
the amount of supplementary feeding required should be
lower, which could reduce feed costs.
A project was conducted at Harper Adams University (HAU)
to investigate the use of alternative conserved forages in
the diets of ewes in late pregnancy and early lactation. The
conserved forages tested were red clover silage, lucerne
silage and untreated wholecrop wheat (UWCW), with grass
silage used as a control.
Forty eight twin-bearing ewes were allocated a conserved
forage treatment (four treatments with 12 ewes in each
trial) and placed in individual pens eight weeks before
lambing until four weeks post-lambing. They were fed
individually so that accurate intake data could be collected
and the range between ewes could be identified. All ewes
were body condition scored and weighed at the start of
the project, weekly to lambing, 12 hours post-lambing,
four weeks post-lambing (turnout), at eight weeks and at
weaning. Lambs were weighed at birth, four weeks of age
(turnout), at eight weeks and at weaning. Colostrum quality
was assessed and the incidence of disease and deaths were
recorded. From turnout, the lambs were creep fed.
Supplementation was provided to make sure the diets
matched energy and protein requirements (AFRC 1993).
During the trial, problems were identified with UWCW as
five ewes lost 0.5 body condition score (BCS) in two weeks.
To halt the weight loss, it was mixed with grass silage. The
red clover-based diet was also adjusted as blood tests
showed that ewes were low in energy.
The results from late pregnancy (see Table 1) shows the
variation in intakes between the treatments. Overall, the
work has found that intakes in late pregnancy are not
decreasing as much as thought and lactation intakes can
be as high as 4% of bodyweight (current figure is 3%).
Table 1: Average intakes of the forage treatments during
Silage intake (kg
fresh weight per ewe)
Grass silage 4.30
Lucerne silage 4.77
Red clover silage 5.00
UWCW/grass silage 3.74
Overall, the ewes in the red clover group had higher BCS
at lambing with corresponding higher lamb performance
from birth to four weeks.
HOW MUCH PROTEIN SHOULD BE FED TO EWES
IN LATE PREGNANCY AND DURING LACTATION?
The main message from the work funded at
Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and Harper Adams
University (HAU) over the last three years is that
the recommended metabolisable protein (MP)
requirements of ewes during late pregnancy or
lactation are still correct.
However, ewes benefit from additional protein
supplementation if they are below target for body
condition as they will have less body reserves to buffer
short-term inadequate nutrition. The work has also shown
that there is some advantage to feeding higher levels of
protein if the ewes are experiencing a worm challenge. This
makes sense as they will have a higher protein requirement
because they will be mounting an immune response.
The results from both projects will be incorporated into
the revised Feeding the Ewe manual and into ewe nutrition
workshops. The researchers from HAU will present at the
NSA Sheep Event and R&D Workshop in September to discuss
the various sheep nutrition projects.
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AHDB BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW
THE ROLE OF NUTRITION DURING PREGNANCY
ON HEIFER LIFETIME PRODUCTIVITY
It is now recognised that nutrition during
pregnancy can have long-term consequences,
not only on the dam but on her progeny as well.
This study focused on the role of nutrition
around conception and its consequences on
ease of calving and the lifetime productivity of
The four-year project undertaken by the University of
Nottingham investigated the effect of protein level prior
to mating and during the first trimester of pregnancy on
a variety of performance, fertility and metabolic traits of
Results have shown that the diets altered blood flow to
the foetus and growth of the calf. Increasing protein in
the diet (18 vs 10% crude protein) prior to conception had
no effect on birthweight. However, those heifers fed the
low-protein diet showed faster rates of growth during mid
and late pregnancy than heifers fed the high-protein ration
before the breeding period (see Figure 1). This performance
advantage was associated with an increase of one body
condition score (BCS) and significantly increased calf
birthweight and calving difficulties.
Figure 1: The average daily gain for the heifers being fed low or high
levels of protein
-2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 precalv
Month relative to conception (AI)
A similar effect has been shown by the same research
team in a larger study in Australia, where increased protein
mid-gestation increased birthweight by 8% (3kg).
Additionally, the project also showed that, where heifers
were fed straw in the run-up to calving, body condition
reduced during the last trimester of pregnancy. Those
heifers that experienced significant BCS loss during this
time exhibited low levels of the hormones leptin and
progesterone (see Figure 2), which are required to enable
the cow to restart cycling post-calving. This resulted in
extended post-partum intervals and a delay in conceiving to
the subsequent pregnancy.
Figure 2: The change in progesterone levels in the heifers being fed
low or high levels of protein
1pp 2pp 3pp 4pp 5pp
Month relative to calving
During the course of the study, detailed measurements
were taken of the progeny of the heifers exposed to the
different dietary treatments, including their fertility when
any heifers were kept as replacements. This data will
provide valuable information on the longer-term effects of
dietary composition for breeding females.
A separate study investigated the effect of dietary crude
protein (CP) on follicular development in maiden heifers.
A high (14.5% CP) or low (10% CP) protein diet was fed
to yearling Angus heifers 60 days prior to examination of
the ovaries. Significant effects on ovary productivity were
recorded, with the high-protein diet increasing the number
of antral follicles in the ovary and also the concentration
of circulating progesterone. Progesterone is essential to
the reduction of early embryonic loss, which can be an
important cause of poor fertility.
A number of articles and on-farm events have already
been delivered to the industry as part of this project and
more are planned.
AHDB BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW COMPLETED PROJECTS | 5
HIGH CONFIDENCE IN GRASS AND CLOVER LISTS
EVEN AT LOWER NITROGEN LEVELS
The Recommended Grass and Clover Lists (RGCL)
provide technical guidance that allows grassland
producers to make informed decisions on grass
and clover varieties during reseeding.
This enables the selection of grass and clover varieties
that are most suited to English production systems.
However, a weakness in this evaluation system is the
difference in management techniques between trials and
those implemented at farm level. Given the contrasting
management techniques, a recent study funded by AHDB
and carried out by NIAB TAG considered the effect of lowinput
nitrogen (N) application levels on perennial ryegrass,
timothy, cocksfoot and mixed clover swards. The aim of this
trial was to assess the reliability of using recommendations
obtained through current trial procedures, which
subsequently act as a guideline at farm level.
To explore the genetic potential of the top grass varieties,
they are tested under high-nutrient inputs (400kg N/ha).
However, in recent years, N fertiliser rates to grassland in
England and Wales have fallen from an average of 150kg
N/ha in 1990 to 60kg N/ha in 2014. With these falling N
fertiliser rates on farm, it is important to understand how
the grasses are performing under low N conditions.
Over a three-year period, six perennial ryegrass varieties
(three tetraploids, three diploids) were managed under three
rates of N application, 400, 200 and 100kg N/ha, and tested
under both cutting and simulated grazing management.
Throughout the study, there was no significant difference
in the ranking of varieties for yield or quality, suggesting
that those varieties which perform better at high-N levels
also perform the best under reduced N conditions (Table
2). This provides confidence that the RGCL can be used in
lower N situations.
This study also highlighted there is plenty of scope to get
more from strategic fertiliser use. In the trial, each additional
kg of N fertiliser applied resulted in an additional 23.5kg
dry matter (DM)/ha of grass. This presented a good return
on investment, with the relative feed value of this grass
(£3.22 at £0.137/kg DM) five times the cost of the N fertiliser
In addition, with higher rates of N application, persistency
of grasses improved and there was a lower weed burden in
these plots. Under simulated grazing, dry matter percentage
values also rose with increasing N application rate.
The results showed that at low levels of N, timothy
outyielded perennial ryegrass, so it should be considered
when producers are sowing mixtures where low levels of N
are going to be used.
Table 2: Perennial ryegrass varieties ranked according to total annual
silage yield under varying applications of nitrogen
Nitrogen fertilisation regime (kg N/ha)
100 200 400
1 Seagoe (T) Seagoe (T) Seagoe (T)
2 Aubisque (T) Aubisque (T) Aubisque (T)
3 Rodrigo Rodrigo Rodrigo
4 Premium AberGreen AberGreen
5 AberGreen Premium Premium
6 Montova (T) Montova (T) Montova (T)
(T) = tetraploid cultivar
With clover becoming an increasingly important source of
N on farm, the study also trialled different grass species
with white clover to find the most suitable companion
grass. At under 200kg N, clover still accounted for 29 to
53% of annual DM yield. The growth habits of different
grass species appear to dictate clover patterns and, when
established with late heading timothy, clover contribution
was highest (Table 3).
Table 3: Impact of companion grass on white clover yield and
contribution under silage management
Cocksfoot 13.9 4.0 29
13.9 5.9 42
13.9 6.4 46
Timothy 13.8 7.4 53
A number of articles and events have already been delivered
to the industry as part of this project and more are planned.
An AHDB Grass Research Day was held at NIAB Headley
Hall in June 2016 and the resources can be found at
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AHDB BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW
WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF RATION TYPE AND FEED
ADDITIVES ON METHANE OUTPUT BY FINISHING CATTLE?
Methane emissions from livestock account for
39% of the emissions from livestock supply chains.
Nutrition provides one of the routes by which this can
be controlled. A project led by Scotland’s Rural College
(SRUC) and involving the Universities of Aberdeen and
Bristol has recently completed work to better understand
the long-term effects of two commercially available
additives on methane emissions, cattle performance and
meat quality when fed with different finishing rations to a
range of cattle breeds (see Table 4).
Table 4: The additives and rations used in the project
1. Nitrates (calcium nitrate)
2. Oils (rapeseed cake or maize distillers grains)
1. Forage-based ration – 50-58% DM as grass silage
and barley wholecrop silage
2. Concentrate-based ration – 74% DM rolled barley
Cattle were introduced to the experimental diets over a
four-week adaption phase when the amount of additive was
gradually increased to the required level.
Cattle on the study achieved growth rates ranging between
1.2-1.8kg per day with no adverse effects from the additives,
except in one instance where adding nitrate caused a slight
reduction in daily liveweight gain (DLWG). On average,
methane emissions were 37% lower (232 vs 145g per day)
when animals were fed the concentrate-based ration,
compared to the mixed forage-based ration and this effect
was maintained, regardless of cattle breed.
Both additives inhibited methane production, with the
forage-based diet, however, they had no effect on the
Figure 3: Effect of ration types and different additives on methane
output from finishing beef cattle (g/kg dry matter intake)
Methane output (g/kgDM intake)
Nitrate Oil No additive Nitrate Oil
Forage based ration#
Concentrate based ration*
# = wholecrop barley silage, grass silage, rolled barley, rapeseed meal, molasses, minerals
* = rolled barley, straw, rapeseed meal, molasses, minerals
In both studies, nitrate had the largest effect, reducing
emissions by 9 to 17%, compared with 4 to 7.5% for oil
supplementation, but nitrate had inconsistent effects on
DLWG, which means that in some instances it impacted on
performance. Notably, the additives had a much smaller
effect on methane emissions than the basal ration type.
Without a financial incentive to reduce methane emissions,
the advice to producers from this work is that adding nitrate
to rations is not recommended. Feeding high-oil feedstuffs
in finishing cattle diets to reduce methane emissions can be
recommended, provided its use is economically competitive
and excessive oil levels (>6% in DM) in the diet are avoided.
IMPROVING THE NATIONAL METHANE INVENTORY
This project was part of Defra’s Agricultural
Greenhouse Gas R&D Platform.
Focusing on cattle and sheep, its objective was to deliver
a set of emission factors for methane from different
livestock species, breeds and genotypes under a range of
farm systems. These factors can be used in a new inventory
to allow UK government to track the effects of changes in
agricultural practices on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
and for reporting to the United Nations under the UK’s
commitment to the Kyoto Protocol.
A series of experiments were undertaken to fill knowledge
gaps. Data demonstrated that feed intake is a major driver
of methane emissions from both cattle and sheep across
a broad range of diet types and productive states. Diet is
also influential, with concentrate-based diets producing less
methane than forage-based diets.
AHDB staff were members of the advisory board to
ensure the work was representative of English production
systems. The outputs will be incorporated into a range
of knowledge exchange activities, where the factors
influencing GHG emissions are considered alongside
commercial business drivers.
Further details of this project and others in the GHG
platform can be found at ghgplatform.org.uk
AHDB BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW COMPLETED PROJECTS | 7
ENHANCEMENTS TO THE GENETIC EVALUATION
OF STABILISER CATTLE
Estimated breeding values (EBVs) are calculated
using knowledge of the heritability of different
traits (the degree to which variation between
animals is influenced by their genes) and the
genetic relationships between these traits.
Periodically, these genetic parameters are reviewed to
ensure they are appropriate for the breed being analysed.
AHDB Beef & Lamb through Signet has funded EGENES
at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), to review the genetic
parameters used in the statistical model for Stabiliser cattle.
The heritability of a trait indicates the proportion of the
variation between animals that can be explained by their
genes. It is the degree to which an animal’s appearance is
influenced by its genes.
If a growth trait has a heritability of 0.3, then 30% of the
liveweight variation between animals would be due to
genetic differences between them and 70% would be due
to environmental influences.
Health and reproduction traits tend to have a low heritability
but this doesn’t mean they are not worth assessing; even a
small change in these traits can be highly profitable.
The EBVs for Stabiliser cattle will change as a result of
this new information. The latest EBVs will provide a more
accurate and robust prediction of genetic merit, as well as
highlighting areas of genetic improvement within the breed
that were previously underestimated.
These enhancements will help breeders and commercial bull
buyers to make better breeding decisions for economically
important traits in the Stabiliser breed.
Table 5: New heritability values for Stabiliser cattle in the UK
Birth Weight EBV 0.29
200 Day Weight EBV 0.21
400 Day Weight EBV 0.45
Fat Depth EBV 0.47
Muscle Depth EBV 0.47
Gestation Length EBV 0.29
Calving Ease EBV 0.11
Maternal Calving Ease EBV 0.01
200 Day Milk EBV 0.09
Calving Interval EBV 0.04
Age at First Calving EBV 0.34
Lifespan EBV 0.16
Mature Cow Weight EBV 0.36
Body Condition Score EBV 0.28
INBREEDING TOOLS FOR SHEEP AND BEEF PRODUCERS
Inbreeding is the consequence of mating two
genetically related animals.
To a degree, this is inevitable within any long-term selection
programme involving a closed population. Inbreeding tends
to increase the number of recessive or harmful genes being
expressed, leading to a reduction in fitness and productivity.
The level of inbreeding is calculated as the probability of two
alleles being identical by descent.
Typical inbreeding percentages, assuming no previous
inbreeding between parents, are:
• Father/daughter, mother/son or brother/sister = 25%
• Grandfather/granddaughter or grandmother/
grandson = 12.5%
• Half-brother/half-sister = 12.5%
• Uncle/niece or aunt/nephew = 12.5%
• Great-grandfather/great-granddaughter or greatgrandmother/great-grandson
AHDB Beef & Lamb is keen to help breeders assess the level
of inbreeding within their herds and flocks. Inbreeding values
for individual sheep are already published online and new
online software is available at basco.org, to help reduce the
risk of inbreeding.
Breeders can now measure the level of inbreeding within
their flock and predict levels of inbreeding in future matings.
The availability of this information will enable breeders to
make more informed breeding decisions, make better use
of homebred genetics and make faster rates of genetic
gain in traits of economic importance. Using the software,
breeders can create mating lists and export these to Excel,
text or PDF formats.
More information on this tool is available by contacting
email@example.com. This software is already
available for sheep breeders and is expected to be launched
for beef breeders soon.
8 | COMPLETED PROJECTS
AHDB BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW
LIFETIME GROWTH PATTERN IN BEEF CATTLE
Improving growth rate and reducing the time
taken to get beef cattle ready for slaughter is
an important component of profitability. It is
also one of the means by which producers can
reduce their greenhouse gas emissions per kg
of beef produced.
Nevertheless, a considerable proportion of prime cattle
are slaughtered over 30 months of age and there is
concern that these animals produce tougher meat. The
Quality Standard Mark standards include restrictions on
animal age at slaughter. This project was undertaken to
establish the validity of the age threshold of 30 months for
quality beef specifications.
The project, carried out at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC),
finished steers and heifers at a wide range of ages between
12 and 36 months according to alternative lifetime growth
patterns, which included a period of growth check for the
older animals, using typical production systems used on
farm in England.
Table 6: The results for the gristle parameters, shear force and
sensory panel results for the three different groups
Long Medium Short
Gristle weight (g) 40.2 31.5 25.8
Gristle (% of joint) 0.46 0.37 0.37
Gristle (% of loin) 1.96 1.62 1.63
Shear force toughness (kg) 11.9 10.4 10.8
Sensory panel results
Toughness 46.9 42.5 38.7
Juiciness 54.1 53.4 51.5
Beef 46.6 47.2 44.4
Abnormal 19.7 20.6 23.7
Figure 4: Dissected gristle from loin for weighing
Data was gathered on the overall productive output, and
carcase quality and meat eating quality assessments were
carried out. The older animals that had been subject to
a growth check and hence, longer growth period, had
increased gristle as a proportion of the loin joint weight.
Shear force results have shown that these animals also
produced tougher muscle (shown by higher shear force).
The sensory panel results suggest that the animals on the
short finishing treatment were significantly less tough than
the animals from the other treatments. However, there was
also slightly lower beef flavour and higher abnormal flavour
values, (see Table 6).
The outcomes of this project will inform the future
development of specifications for meat quality, including
within AHDB Beef & Lamb’s Quality Standard Mark scheme,
and will be incorporated into advice for producers on
finishing beef cattle.
AHDB BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW COMPLETED PROJECTS | 9
STRAW PADS FOR BEEF CATTLE
A straw pad is an open, deep-bedded enclosure for
‘housing’ livestock. The majority of straw pads are
unlined and the principle of the system is that the
depth of bedding provides sufficient absorptive
capacity to retain the dung and urine generated by
the animals, and rainfall over the pad area.
However, there is concern about the potential for water
pollution from uncontained runoff or drainage to surface
and ground water from unlined pads. This study aimed to
evaluate key aspects of the design criteria for straw-bedded
corrals to ensure satisfactory livestock performance and
Detailed information was collected, by ADAS, from nine
farms located in England that used straw pads to house
cattle over winter. All of the farms answered positively when
asked about the health of the cattle kept on the pads, with
the majority of farms stating that the cattle were as clean
outside on the pads as they would have been in a roofed
straw yard. None of the farms reported any foot problems
or lameness associated with this housing type and five
farms gave the opinion that cattle kept on straw pads were
healthier, due to a reduced risk of bovine respiratory disease.
The water holding capacity of different bedding material
was determined in a laboratory experiment. A range of
bedding material was tested as shown in Table 7. Barley
straw demonstrated the highest water holding capacity,
being able to absorb approximately four-and-a-half times its
own weight in water. In contrast, waste wood shavings were
only able to absorb their own weight in water.
The study found that nitrate-N and ammonia-N
concentrations in drainage water from straw pads were very
high, indicating that any effluent draining into the soil from
these pads represented a high risk of diffuse N pollution.
Drainage occurred mainly following a period of heavy
rainfall. This highlights the importance of applying sufficient
bedding early in the season to provide capacity to absorb
effluent, following a short period of heavy rainfall.
Table 7: Water holding capacity of straw pad bedding material
capacity (% of
56 27 108
84 21 301
Barley straw 87 16 458
Based on the findings of this work, a BRP+ document titled
Guidelines for Managing Outdoor Straw Pads for Beef Cattle
has been produced. This document details recommendations
for straw-bedded pad design and management and is
available on the AHDB Beef & Lamb website.
10 | COMPLETED PROJECTS
AHDB BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW
IDENTIFICATION AND MITIGATION
OF ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF OUTWINTERING
CATTLE ON GRASSLAND SACRIFICE AREAS
Outwintering cattle offers a number of economic
benefits compared to housing over the winter
months and, if the farm is within a nitrate
vulnerable zone (NVZ), offers an alternative to
investing in slurry storage facilities. However,
outwintering could potentially have negative
consequences, mainly in terms of air and water
pollution, but also soil erosion, animal health and
welfare and public safety.
This project was led by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and
the Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Science
(IBERS). Its aims were to:
• Investigate the use of grass sacrifice fields
• Explore options for mitigating negative environmental
effects of outwintering
• Hold producer workshops to gain an insight into
management and perceptions of sacrifice fields
• Develop an understanding of the limits to adoption by
producers of pollution mitigation practices.
This study has shown that outwintering beef and dairy cows
can lead to significant levels of pollution by ammonium,
phosphorus and other particulate contaminants. Such
pollution arises due to rapid transport of components of
deposited excreta to drains in saturated soil during or after
Therefore, sacrificing an area of land for outwintering
cattle requires planning and management to minimise the
Producer interaction was a key part of this project and a
range of best management practices and recommendations
were identified from this work and tested with producers in
a series of workshops to assess their likelihood of adoption:
1. Provision of visual soil assessment aids: Soil types
are critically important in affecting the level of damage
within a sacrifice area.
2. Visual poaching assessment aids: A method was
developed and tested to objectively measure the
amount of poaching within a particular area.
3. Drainage management: Outwintering should not take
place in any field which is subject to frequent ponding
or surface run-off due to the inadequacy or degradation
of the tile drainage system.
4. Potential for rainfall collection and monitoring:
Investment in both collecting equipment and provision
of ‘ready-reckoner’ type cards or software may be
beneficial to controlling pollution in a sacrifice area.
5. Use of line feeding and bale feeders: No
environmental benefit was found from moving feeders
to different locations periodically over the winter.
6. Post-treatment of the field: The highest risk period
emerges in the four months after sacrifice (1 April – 31
July) and nutrient losses are minimised if producers
reseed rather than natural regeneration.
Messages from this study have been incorporated into
AHDB Beef & Lamb guidance for outwintering of cattle
and continue to be communicated to industry in line
with other advice regarding grazing management and
AHDB BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW COMPLETED PROJECTS | 11
HEALTH AND WELFARE
NOVEL WAYS OF DETECTING SHEEP
WITH OVINE PULMONARY ADENOCARCINOMA
Ovine pulmonary adenocarcinoma (OPA) is
an infectious lung tumour of sheep caused by
Jaagsiekte Sheep Retrovirus (JSRV).
There is no treatment or vaccine and, once clinical signs
appear, the disease is invariably fatal. Affected flocks may
lose as many as 20% of stock in the first couple of years that
OPA is present, and the disease may continue to account for
the loss of a few per cent of sheep every year for many years
thereafter. The disease appears to be increasingly common
throughout the UK and a means of ascertaining flock
status is a recognised need. Ideally, producers should be
able to identify if the infection is present in their flock and
then work with their vet to minimise losses. Perhaps more
importantly, the 70-90% of flocks that are estimated to
be free of the disease can only maintain this status by
being able to buy replacement breeding stock from other
OPA-free flocks. An OPA flock test based on testing thin
ewes could facilitate an appropriate assurance scheme.
Nasal swabs are being collected from thin ewes from
infected and clean flocks to see whether swabs can be used
to detect the presence of JRSV. Some of the cull ewes will be
purchased and post-mortem examinations will be conducted
to determine OPA status. The performance of the novel test
will be evaluated and all the results will be communicated
back to the producers, vets, consultants and advisers.
UNRAVELLING THE AETIOLOGY OF
CONTAGIOUS OVINE DIGITAL DERMATITIS
The Farm Animal Welfare Council has challenged
the sheep industry to reduce lameness prevalence
to less than 5% by 2016 and 2% by 2021.
Until recently, research efforts have been focused on
the control of one major cause of lameness, footrot.
Consequently, most of the current evidence-based
veterinary medicine lameness control advice is for footrot.
The emergence of contagious ovine digital dermatitis
(CODD) as a major cause of lameness in the UK is a new
and important challenge. 35% to 53% of farms in England
and Wales report having CODD. There is little current
evidence-based advice available for CODD control, which
impacts on lameness control.
The project will be undertaken at Liverpool University,
and will aim to determine differences in the bacterial
microbiome of feet between CODD infected and healthy
sheep and to see how this changes over time.
It will involve a group of store lambs being sourced from
a farm with no history of CODD. Four lambs with CODD
lesions will be introduced to the group and the lambs will
be monitored daily for clinical signs of CODD. All feet will
be swabbed weekly for microbiological assessment and the
lambs will be blood sampled monthly for immunological
testing. The lambs will be treated with antibiotics and foot
and bacteriological monitoring will continue to look at the
impact of treatment.
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AHDB BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW
HEALTH AND WELFARE
SUSTAINABLE CONTROL OF PARASITES
A number of postgraduate students are currently
targeting their research on developing better
tools to control parasite infections.
Close links with industry initiatives (SCOPS and COWS) will
ensure that the outputs of this work are communicated
effectively to a range of industry stakeholders, including
vets, suitably qualified persons (SQPs) and producers.
Diagnosis of fluke infective stage in the environment –
Moredun Research Institute
This project will investigate possible methods for detecting
liver and rumen fluke metacercarial cysts on pasture, which
could then be developed in the future for use in practical
field tests. These tests could help producers pinpoint those
fields or areas of fields with a viable fluke burden and
prevent stock from grazing those areas at high-risk times.
Development of a pen-side diagnostic test for liver fluke
infection in cattle and sheep – University of Liverpool
This project aims to produce a fast and simple way for
producers to diagnose liver fluke infection in individual
cattle and sheep via a lateral flow-style test (similar to a
home-pregnancy test). It may also provide early diagnosis
of acute fasciolosis in sheep. By diagnosing infection in
individual animals, this test would allow for targeted
treatments and reduce the reliance on blanket drug use.
Development of improved diagnostics for the detection
of Neospora caninum infected cattle – Moredun Research
Neopsora is the most frequently diagnosed cause of bovine
abortion in many countries in Europe and worldwide. It is
caused by the protozoan parasite Neospora caninum (N.
caninum). The economic impact of the disease involves
significant losses due to abortion, premature culling,
reduced milk yield and reduced post-weaning weight. This
project aims to develop more sensitive diagnostic tests to
allow the accurate detection of infected and carrier animals.
The focus is on persistently infected cattle that may elude
currently available diagnostics.
ANIMAL HEALTH RESEARCH CLUB
In 2012, AHDB, through its Beef & Lamb, Dairy and
Pork sectors, joined with the Biotechnology and
Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC) to
found the Animal Health Research Club (ARC).
ARC was formed to bring together industry and the research
community to improve understanding of resistance to
pests and diseases in farmed animals. ARC has 12 company
members who contribute to funding research and take part
in directing the club’s activities.
The club has a total budget of approximately £10 million:
£965,000 from industrial membership subscriptions,
£831,000 from the Scottish Government and £8 million
ARC addresses the following key research challenges:
• Understanding the basis of resistance or resilience to
pests and diseases in farmed animal species
• Developing novel tools for defining disease biomarkers
and phenotypes to inform breeding strategies for
subclinical diseases and increased disease resistance
• Understanding variation in vaccine responsiveness and
immunocompetence at different developmental stages
and disease outcomes
• Determining the effects of selection for production
traits on immune function.
ARC invests in research to underpin knowledge and improve
skills in the research community to deliver pre-competitive,
innovative and industrially relevant outputs for the animal
breeding, pharmaceutical and production industries.
A total of 15 research projects and five PhD studentships
have been awarded through the ARC.
AHDB BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW CURRENT PROJECTS | 13
UPDATING THE METABOLISABLE
ENERGY REQUIREMENTS FOR SHEEP
Current feeding standards for breeding ewes in
the UK are largely determined by the Technical
Committee on Responses to Nutrients report
published by the Agriculture and Food Research
Council (AFRC, 1993).
In the 20 years since its publication, there have been no
attempts to update or refine these recommendations. This is
in contrast to the dairy sector where concerns over feeding
recommendations, especially for high-yielding dairy cows,
were largely addressed by the Feed into Milk (FiM) Project.
Several well-documented concerns over the UK feeding
standards for sheep have been highlighted, particularly
in relation to the prediction of metabolisable energy
requirements for maintenance and the contribution of
fat mobilisation to these requirements, particularly in
the pregnant ewe. There is a need to investigate the
maintenance energy requirements of sheep and to update
current feeding standards accordingly, particularly for
breeding ewes. There is also a need to better understand
the feed requirements for growing replacement ewes.
The project, called Feed into Lamb, is being conducted at
the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) in Northern
Ireland and aims to review and update the current UK
feeding standards for sheep in terms of their metabolisable
energy requirements, particularly in relation to age, degree
of maturity and both current and historical nutritional
status. An experiment on adult ewes will be conducted in
2017 and one on growing animals in 2018, with the final
results being made available by December 2018.
FEEDING THE EWE
The last Feeding the Ewe publication was in 1988.
A lot of research has since taken place in this area
and many new breeds have become commonplace.
Research such as the alternative forages trial and many like
it, have been undertaken over the last 20 years but have not
been incorporated into one document for easy access for
consultants, advisers and producers.
The project team has on-farm practical experience of
feeding and includes a nutrition chemist. Their approach
is to ask industry advisers what is needed in the manual.
This is to ensure maximum buy-in and effective use of the
manual once produced. A questionnaire was circulated to
approximately 20 vets, nutritionists and advisers to ask
their opinions. The data was collated and presented to the
participants in a breakout session at the British Society of
Animal Science’s annual conference in 2016, where excellent
input and ideas were gathered.
The team will convert their extensive literature review into a
BRP+ document, which will cover feeding ewes in a range of
systems throughout the year, and will be available Autumn
2016. The BRP manual on sheep nutrition will be updated and
rationing workshops will be held during the winter of 2016/17.
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AHDB BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW
DEVELOPING GRAZING SYSTEMS
FOR BEEF PRODUCERS
There is growing interest from beef producers to
graze cattle for more days, to gain more weight
from grass and to understand the potential
benefit of rotational grazing.
The potential of grass and grazed forages in relation to
growth rates for beef cattle is well known but is often not
realised on English farms. The two-year Beef from Grass
project aims to highlight the potential of grass and grazed
forage for beef cattle production and will provide practical
guidance on how beef producers can improve their current
At the end of last year, four mentor grassland beef
producers (Graham Parks, Matt Pilkington, Catherine
Pickford, Steve Thorne) were linked with four beef
producers (Andrew Crow, Tim Phipps, Matthew House,
Lloyd Mortimore) who wanted to significantly improve
their current beef performance from grass. Working with
other industry specialists, the aim is to upskill the improver
farms and then to feedback the key messages to the
The four farm improvers have been split between two
consultants, Marc Jones (ADAS) and Charlie Morgan
(independent grassland specialist), who are targeting three
key areas of improvement:
1. Number of days cattle are housed
2. Stocking rates across the grazing platform
3. Growth rates from grazing and silage/forage.
By the end of the project, it is aimed that a blueprint for
managing grass for beef cattle will be created, this will
include targets for growth rates, stocking rates, cover
targets and infrastructure requirements. In addition, key
performance indicators will be identified which relate to
grassland management and profitability from beef. These
are likely to cover kg of weight produced per hectare,
concentrates fed per animal and fertiliser practice.
Regular updates on this project can be found in the AHDB
Beef & Lamb Grazing Club e-newsletter. Over the course of
the project, each farm will host an on-farm event, which will
provide an opportunity to learn more about the project and
discuss the key focus areas for grassland improvement.
REVIEWING BEEF NUTRITIONAL STANDARDS
The Agrifood and Bioscience Institute (AFBI)
of Northern Ireland has recently been awarded
funding for a postgraduate studentship to initiate
the revision of current beef nutritional models
used within the UK.
The current models are based on equations developed over
30 years ago and there is considerable evidence to indicate
that these underestimate the nutrient requirements of
modern beef cattle. Consequently, there is an urgent
need to revise the nutritional standards for beef cattle
and produce accurate prediction models for feed intake,
metabolisable energy and protein requirements for beef
cattle produced under a range of systems.
This studentship will be aligned to a range of beef research
programmes being undertaken by the beef research team
at AFBI Hillsborough and the beef technology development
programmes being undertaken by the College of
Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE).
The studentship will focus on three work packages:
1. Scientific review of literature and meta-analysis of work
conducted over the last 30 years for a range of animal
types and production systems
2. New research to fill knowledge gaps, including grazing
3. Validation of new prediction models on commercial
farms, linking to the BETTER farms programme.
Messages will be communicated via a range of routes as the
research progresses and linked to other projects ongoing
within the AHDB beef R&D portfolio. As well as targeting
farmers, the outcomes will be aimed at feed advisory
services to encourage updating of ration formulation
models and improving adviser knowledge.
AHDB BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW CURRENT PROJECTS | 15
WHAT IS SARIC?
The Sustainable Agriculture Research &
Innovation Club (SARIC) is a joint initiative
between the Natural Environment and Research
Council (NERC) and the Biotechnology and
Biological Research Council (BBSRC).
SARIC was set up to support innovative projects that will
provide solutions to key challenges affecting the efficiency,
productivity and sustainability of the UK crop and livestock
Other partners include Anglian Water, Associated British
Agriculture, Bayer CropScience, Monsanto and Syngenta.
Approximately £10m of funding is available to address two
key challenges identified by industry:
• Resilient and robust crop and livestock
• Predictive capabilities for sustainable agriculture.
Funded projects from the first call include:
• Magnesium Network (MAG-NET): Integrating
soil-crop-animal pathways to improve ruminant health
• Impacts of different vegetation in riparian buffer strips
on hydrology and water quality
• Diverse forage mixtures to optimise ruminant animal
production, nutrient use efficiency, environmental
impact, biodiversity and resilience.
Another round of activity will be decided by the consortium
INTEGRATING BEEF INTO ARABLE ROTATIONS
AHDB Beef & Lamb is funding a project led by
ADAS to investigate the concept of integrating
beef production into arable cropping systems.
Escalating input costs, combined with increasing demand
for land means that starting or expanding beef enterprises
can be a challenge. This project will emphasise the practical,
economic, environmental and agronomic implications of
integrating beef and arable enterprises in a predominantly
arable cropping area.
By investigating the concept of integrating the systems,
producers from both sectors will have access to valuable
information to enable them to make more informed
decisions. Potentially, this concept could prove an effective
means of increasing scale and subsequent productivity
for beef units throughout England. There is still some
uncertainty from arable producers about the economic
return of introducing beef production into their rotation.
Yet, the integration of both systems could prove a viable
method of mitigating various issues currently facing arable
Issues such as herbicide resistance, reduced fertiliser
efficiencies and diminishing soil health threaten the viability
of arable crop production in parts of England. From an
arable perspective, it is estimated that a direct benefit will
come by simply adopting grazed leys into the rotation.
Potential benefits to the beef producer include reduced cost
of production, reduced dependency on expensive variable
costs and the potential to expand their enterprise.
A key part of this project is to translate information on
the practical, economic, environmental and agronomic
implications of integrating beef enterprises into arable
systems for both arable and beef producers.
Both farms that are involved in this research project will be
used to communicate the findings of the project through
events and case studies, alongside AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds.
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AHDB BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW
EVALUATING THE PERFORMANCE, HEALTH AND
WELFARE OF BEEF CATTLE ON A RANGE OF
LARGER FINISHING UNITS IN ENGLAND
As beef finishing units increase in size there is
a need to better understand key factors driving
There is also the need to be responsive to mounting
consumer interest and expectations about how their food is
produced. To date, there has been little research conducted
to compare finishing systems and investigate the impact
that the type of finishing system has on the performance,
health and welfare of cattle.
Westpoint Veterinary Group and SAC Consulting are
currently delivering a three-year project investigating the
health, welfare and performance of beef cattle on larger
finishing units in England. The project aims to provide an
evidence base for larger beef finishing systems, identifying
innovations and best practices and providing robust data
which can be used to benchmark English systems against
those seen in the main beef-producing regions of the world.
Initially, a survey of large finishing units will be undertaken,
together with a review of the literature evaluating factors
affecting beef finishing cattle performance. Subsequently,
a number of on-farm trials will be carried out to increase the
evidence base in relation to key factors of relevance to cattle
health, welfare and performance on large finishing units.
Findings from the project will be communicated to beef
producers and the wider industry through events and articles
during the life of the project.
VALIDATING KEY PERFORMANCE
INDICATORS FOR BEEF PRODUCTION
AHDB Beef & Lamb has recently funded a
pilot project working with the University of
Nottingham looking at evaluating current and
novel beef key performance indicators (KPIs).
The aim is to help beef producers track performance and
identify their business’ strengths and weaknesses. KPIs are
figures calculated from records that can be used to predict
overall business success. They can be used to make informed
decisions, identify strengths and weaknesses and implement
changes that may drive up the profitability of the business.
At the start of the project, a technical advisory group
(TAG) was set up and this group will form a core part of the
project going forward. The TAG consists of a small group
of producers, industry professionals, academics and AHDB
Beef & Lamb staff who will work together to develop KPIs
for each major method of beef production.
At the start of 2016, the TAG and further industry experts
met to discuss current and potential KPIs in the areas
of fertility, health, finance, growth, carcase, feed and
environment in suckler and growing/finishing systems.
Other KPIs will also be identified from a review of work
around the world. Currently, the four producers involved in
the project are providing physical and financial data from
their own beef enterprises to produce a range of KPIs. This
will help to identify the practicality of collecting the data
required to calculate the KPIs and the value of them to both
producers and industry professionals.
Results will be communicated to the industry through
producer meetings and technical articles.
AHDB BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW CURRENT PROJECTS | 17
BEEF FEED EFFICIENCY PROGRAMME
The Beef Feed Efficiency Programme is a £1.75
million Defra and AHDB Beef & Lamb-funded
initiative aiming to demonstrate the ability to
measure for feed efficiency traits in beef cattle
on specially equipped commercial farms.
The output will include genetic parameters required for
the development of breeding values for traits associated
with feed efficiency. Initially, the programme is targeting
Limousin-bred cattle, with its ambition to establish a
sustainable system for recording feed efficiency that can
be extended to other cattle breeds in the future.
The programme is currently in year two of its four-year
duration and is progressing well. Feed intake records are
currently being collected for batches of beef cattle at
Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC). The aim is to collect 500
cattle records through this unit over five batches. Pure
and crossbred cattle are being sourced in sire groups,
representing a wide range of genetic merit within the
population, and their intake and performance records will
form the basis of the genetic evaluation for their sires.
Cattle recorded at the SRUC facility
Interim results for Batch 1 were reported at the British
Cattle Breeders Conference in January and showed a range
of residual feed intakes (RFI) across the 13 sires represented,
as shown in Figure 5. RFI or net feed efficiency (NFE) as it
is also known, is a measure of an animal’s dry matter intake
in relation to its predicted intake and it is independent of
liveweight and growth rate. Cattle with low RFI values (see
bars towards the left on Figure 5) eat less than predicted
without any effect on rate of liveweight gain.
Figure 5: Residual feed intake by sire for Batch 1
RFI (kg DMI/day)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Most efficient cattle
= lower intake
8 9 10 11 12 13
Some meetings have already been conducted and more
will be arranged on the feed recording units as the project
continues. These are complemented by bulletins as well as
wider press releases and presentations to producer groups
from AHDB and through partners and supporters such as
British Limousin Cattle Society, auctioneers, calf rearers
and milk processors. Information about the programme
will feature on the AHDB Beef & Lamb stand at shows
Two commercial farms have been contracted to undertake
recording of feed intake and performance of growing
beef cattle over the next two years. These units will
have specialist equipment installed to record individual
cattle intake over a 63-day test period, during which time
liveweight gain and fat depth will also be recorded.
These units are located in Dorset and North Yorkshire.
Both farms have capacity for batches of around 120 cattle
and the opportunity to finish the cattle after they have been
on test, allowing valuable carcase data to be fed into the
The programme is looking for Limousin-sired calves to
purchase or acquire on a retained ownership basis. Suitable
calves will originate from a farm that is able to supply four
to 16 steer calves from the same, currently (or previously)
registered, Limousin bull or AI sire. They need to be suitable
for entry to a rearing unit (two to four weeks of age) or be
weaned and aged up to seven months old. Market prices will
be paid for any selected cattle. For more information, please
This project is being funded by
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AHDB BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW
RAMCOMPARE - ABATTOIR ACTIVITY
The aim of RamCompare is to enable the UK sheep
industry to drive genetic improvement forward
through the inclusion of commercial data in
Partners from along the supply chain are involved and
extensive data recording, from birth to slaughter, will be
carried out in order to inform genetic evaluations, with
performance data being included from farms through to
abattoirs. The RamCompare project was launched in May
2015 and phase one completes in November 2017.
The first breeding season has finished, with around 3,600
lambs born and the first lambs arrived in the abattoirs in May.
Together with AB Sustain and Sainsbury’s, a standard
protocol was developed for farms and abattoirs to use for
all project lambs slaughtered. Following Sainsbury’s retail
specification, two companies are involved:
• Randall Park Foods (abattoir in Llanidloes, Powys and
cutting plant in Andover, Hampshire)
• Dunbia (abattoir and cutting plant in Llanybydder,
At slaughter, the liveweight, carcase weight, conformation
and fat classification will be recorded for all lambs finished.
Approximately 30% of females from each sire and farm
will be further assessed for meat yield and tenderness.
The carcases will be broken down into primals (Table 8)
in the cutting plants and the weights of the primals will
be recorded. A sample of the loin muscle will be taken to
measure shear force to ensure tenderness is not affected
The primal yields will be compared to the on-farm ultrasound
measurements of the lamb’s muscle and fat depth taken
when they were around 12 weeks old. This is the first
time that ultrasound measurements are being taken
from commercial lambs sired by rams with ultrasound
measurements, with a proportion of the carcases being
broken down into primals and weighed.
Table 8: The primals measured at cutting plant
Haunch Front Middle
Total haunch Total front Total middle
Legs Shoulder (ex fillet) Rib in loin
Chump weight Neck fillet Best end
Bone weight Breast tip/flap Breast
Fat weight Neck stump Blade tip
Other trim weight Bone weight Bone weight
Other trim weight
Other trim weight
Updates on the RamCompare project, including biannual
newsletters, are available at ramcompare.com or on Twitter
by following @ramcompare. Events are being held on the
six commercial farms involved over the course of the project,
which runs until December 2017.
COMBINED BREED ANALYSIS FOR TERMINAL RAMS
Genetic evaluations of sheep in the UK have
traditionally been within purebred populations.
However, around 56% of ewes in the national flock are
crossbred and crossbred sheep are increasingly being used
in genetic improvement systems. There is, therefore, a
demand for across- breed estimated breeding values (EBVs).
These sort of evaluations are widely used in Ireland, New
Zealand and Australia. On completion, the project will enable
crossbred animals to be analysed accurately while taking into
account hybrid vigour.
The Combined Breed Analysis (CBA) project, led by EGENES,
was launched in 2015 and includes 12 terminal sire breeds.
To be included in the analysis, animals must have an accurate
record of their breed make-up and be at least 50% of the
specified breed. One set of genetic parameters is being used
and shows similar heritabilities and correlations as those
previously used. The EBVs generated via the CBA project are
correlating well with the in-breed evaluations, meaning that
the best sheep within breed are still earning the best values.
Currently, the project is assessing three different methods
of modelling hybrid vigour and the results show that no one
breed is overly favoured or penalised by the evaluation.
Running the CBA will save an estimated 136 hours a year,
which will be reallocated to running monthly rather than
quarterly reports, giving all breeders more frequent updates
on genetic progress. The project will produce better EBVs
and give breeders a wider range of genetics to choose from
when making breeding decisions.
Through 2016, the analysis will undergo rigorous quality
assessment and extensive testing. It is anticipated that
in 2017 all twelve terminal sire breeds will be moved to
AHDB BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW CURRENT PROJECTS | 19
ONLINE TOOL FOR RECOMMENDED
GRASS AND CLOVER LISTS
Recommended Grass and Clover Lists (RGCL) are
drawn up after rigorous testing for attributes such
as yield, persistency, quality and disease resistance.
The RGCL testing programme is funded by plant breeders
through the British Society of Plant Breeders and the
ruminant levy boards in England and Wales.
Knowing the performance characteristics of grass and
clover is immensely useful for grassland producers. It allows
appropriate selection of varieties that will perform well for a
There are three steps to making the best use of the RGCL:
1. Is it on the list? – When looking at mixtures, check that
the varieties are listed in the booklet
2. Is it right for the job? – Make sure the type of grasses
listed in a mixture are fit for the purpose
3. Which varieties fit the job? – Refinements can be made
to mixtures in consultation with your merchant.
The 2016/2017 RGCL handbook and the full lists for
merchants are available to download at beefandlamb.ahdb.
org.uk/returns and britishgrassland.com/rgcl
There is an online tool which
means that, with just a few
clicks, producers are now able
to select and compare
the latest recommended
perennial ryegrass varieties,
assisting them in selecting
varieties to suit their
individual farm requirements.
The tool can be found by
HOW TO USE THE TOOL
• Select the purpose of the mixture – either for grazing
(including up to one cut) or for silage (two or more cuts
• Then select one or more of the filters, depending on the
purpose of the mixtures
• A list of the most relevant perennial ryegrass will
• Up to four varieties can be compared in detail and the
data can be downloaded as a CSV file
• More detailed information is available on each variety by
clicking on the name.
DEVELOPING BEEF EXPERTISE
AHDB Beef & Lamb is working with the British
Institute of Agricultural Consultants (BIAC) to
deliver continuous professional development (CPD)
to consultants and advisers who want to develop
their beef expertise.
The programme was set up to help develop beef expertise
to ensure well-trained and experienced consultants and
advisers continue to be available to the beef industry. The
programme consists of five meetings, held from December
2015 to December 2016.
In October 2015, AHDB Beef & Lamb recruited 16 consultants
and advisers to take part in the programme. Applicants were
assessed on the proportion of time they spent working
with English beef and lamb levy payers, how the individual’s
development needs fitted with the programme’s outputs
and whether they were willing to deliver on-farm events.
The first meeting was held in December 2015 and focused
on herd performance and selecting cattle for slaughter and
included a visit to Rowntree Farm near Clitheroe, followed by
a ‘Live to Dead’ day at Dunbia, Sawley.
The second was held in February and at this meeting
consultants and advisers received an introduction to the Beef
Improvement Group’s net feed efficiency project and the
Defra and AHDB Beef & Lamb-funded Beef Feed Efficiency
Programme. Sessions also included factors affecting the
meat quality of beef and a workshop on EBVs. The meeting
finished with a workshop on influencing skills.
The third meeting was held in June at Rothamsted Research
in North Wyke, Devon where the consultants and advisers
were introduced to the Farm Platform, a world-class facility
attracting researchers to develop sustainable ruminant
production systems. There was an opportunity to discuss
the key grazing advice for beef producers and how to use
grazing plans with their clients. They were also provided with
detailed training on Stocktake.
A further two meetings are scheduled for September and
December. The focus will be on health and building design
in September, and in December the focus will be rationing
20 | CURRENT PROJECTS
AHDB BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW
CENTRE OF INNOVATION EXCELLENCE IN LIVESTOCK
In early 2016, the Centre of Innovation Excellence
in Livestock (CIEL) came into being, with formal
agreement from the Department for Business
Innovation and Skills to provide £27 million of
capital funding to develop the much-needed
facilities to support livestock research in the UK.
CIEL is one of a family of four Agri-Tech Centres of
Excellence and will work closely with the other centres to
deliver impact for the livestock industries. This investment
from government will be matched with co-funding from
each of the 12 research partners, resulting in a total
investment of around £60 million.
Building work has commenced on a number of sites and new
equipment has been sourced. CIEL has begun signing up
industry members, with businesses joining from throughout
the agri-food supply chain. These industry members
will drive the research agenda for CIEL through an R&D
Committee. Research will address industry needs in the
beef, dairy, pigs, poultry and sheep sectors.
To support, promote and deliver innovative, industry-led
research for sustainable intensification of the UK livestock
sector through a single centre, with the aim of generating
wealth and business competitiveness through the growth in
profitability of that sector.
AHDB will work closely with CIEL to develop research
programmes that meet the needs of levy payers, benefiting
from the investment in excellent research facilities and the
huge value in collaboration of experts from across the UK.
We will contribute to the development of pre-competitive
research programmes through the R&D committee. In
addition, CIEL will be in a strong position to bid in response
to AHDB calls or tenders for research in the livestock area.
For more information,
The next challenge for CIEL is to begin to establish
programmes of research that address the industry need
in livestock production (including health, nutrition and
genetics) and product quality.
LIVESTOCK INDUSTRY DATA EXCHANGE HUB
A new data exchange hub, which would allow
access to data held in existing Government,
industry and private databases, is being
The project, funded by the Agri-tech Catalyst, aims to allow
key animal-based information to be brought together and
presented through a single web-based portal.
The initial focus of the project is on animal disease and farm
assurance data, with access limited to auction markets,
abattoirs and producers via a secure, password protected
login. It is envisaged that the framework developed can then
be expanded to other areas of livestock data, managed and
governed by an industry-led consortium, which will greatly
benefit all sectors of the industry.
AHDB is working with over 20 industry collaborators for
the feasibility study, including industry databases, farm
management software suppliers, auction market and abattoir
system providers. Within the consortium, Shearwell Data
Ltd. has primary responsibility to deliver the final technical
specification, agreed by an industry project steering group.
The steering group includes the National Farmers Union
(NFU), AHDB (Beef & Lamb, Dairy), Livestock Auctioneers’
Association (LAA), British Meat Processors’ Association
(BMPA), British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) and
Cattle Health and Welfare Group (CHAWG).
Arable and sheep producer, John Cross, who is chairing the
project steering group, said: “The data relating to each animal
is out there but it’s sitting in different locations. Making this
information more available will be a significant step forward,
as this will mean that all commercial operators can benefit
and enhance the service they offer to their clients.”
AHDB BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW CURRENT PROJECTS | 21
OTHER CURRENT PROJECTS
Title Why Institution
Suckler cow nutrition
To understand if there is any
benefit of increasing the protein
supply to pregnant beef cows
x x Sep 16
Diseases present in
To determine how useful disease
surveillance in cull ewes is for
detecting iceberg diseases
x x Oct 16
Genetics of trace
To understand the variability
between animals for trace
x x Nov 16
Feed planning tool
To understand how to develop a
feed planning tool for UK systems
Farmax x x x Nov 16
To reduce lamb losses by focusing
on body condition score, rationing
x x Feb 17
To update the Fertiliser Manual
ADAS x x x May 17
Sheep KPI project
To demonstrate the importance of
body condition monitoring on ewe
and lamb performance
x x Jul 17
Improving control of
liver fluke in cattle
To improve control of liver fluke
by developing new management
Liverpool x x Sep 17
Assessment of silage
To understand the factors
affecting silage clamp quality
x x x Sep 17
rape and farm
Satellites to improve
Calf to carcase on
a low cost outdoor
for improved health
To demonstrate the benefit of
organic manures as a source of
sulphur within cereal rotations
To investigate novel methods to
assess grass growth
To understand how animals can be
reared on forage systems
To understand grass and clover
root interactions for crop
production and soil structure
To evaluate technological methods
to assess health in housed dairybred
ADAS x x x Feb 18
ADAS x x x Mar 18
ADAS x x Oct 18
Aberystwyth x x x Mar 19
SRUC x x Dec 19
Connected Farms –
To understand how technology can
be integrated on beef farms
x x Apr 20
22 | OTHER CURRENT PROJECTS
AHDB BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW
Generally, three PhDs are funded per year but when other sources of funding are available, such as CASE
studentships, then AHDB Beef & Lamb can be involved in more.
Some of the studentships are joint funded with other levy boards. More details on the studentship call can be found on page 24.
Who What Species When Where
Identifying and exploiting the molecular basis of resistance to
Oct 12 –
Role of Fusobacterium necrophorum in sheep and the
environment in the severity and persistence of footrot
Oct 13 –
Development of diagnostics for the detection of Neospora
caninum infected carrier cattle
Oct 14 –
Development of a pen-side diagnostic test for fluke infection
in sheep and cattle
Oct 14 –
Rapid pen-side detection of salmonella from calves with scour
Markers of anthelmintic resistance in gastro-intestinal
parasites of ruminants
Oct 15 –
Hannah Shaw Control of cryptosporidiosis in calves Beef
Oct 15 –
Diagnosis of fluke infective stages in the environment
Oct 15 –
Intensive pastoral production systems for beef – impact and
Oct 15 –
Development of molecular tools for the rapid assessment of
benzimidazole resistance and investigation of possible factors
in resistance development in Nematodirus
Jan 15 –
Best practice to minimise mastitis in sheep
Oct 15 –
Naomi Prosser What really causes footrot in sheep? Sheep
Oct 15 –
Developing an efficient, validated, sustainable on-farm
syndromic surveillance system for beef cattle and sheep
Jan 16 –
Dichelobacter nodosus metapopulations and epidemiology of
footrot in endemically infected flocks
Oct 15 –
Strategic use of body condition scoring to improve
performance in commercial sheep flocks
Jul 14 –
FIVE NEW PhDs WILL START IN OCTOBER 2016
What Species When Where
Evidence-based farm decisions for lamb production Sheep Oct 16 – Sep 19 Nottingham
The impact of Maedi-Visna on breeding flocks Sheep Oct 16 – Sep 19 Nottingham
Reviewing beef nutritional standards Cattle Oct 16 – Sep 19 AFBI Agrisearch
Persistence and transmission of intramammary pathogens
causing acute mastitis: the role of chronic intra-mammary
Sheep Oct 16 – Sep 20 Warwick CASE
Genetic and molecular basis of triclabendazole resistance in
Oct 16 – Sep 20
AFBI = Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, BBSRC = Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, (i)CASE = (Industrial) Collaborative Awards in Science
and Engineering, DTP = Doctorate Training Partnerships, NERC = Natural Environment Research Council, SIG = Sheep Improvement Group, QMS = Quality Meat
Scotland, KTN = Knowledge Transfer Network
AHDB BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW STUDENTSHIPS | 23
AHDB Beef & Lamb aims to have a portfolio of research which delivers knowledge to support the following
priority outcomes for the beef and sheep industries:
KEY OUTCOMES FOR
ENGLISH BEEF INDUSTRY
• Increase weaned weight of suckled calves
• Increase forage and feed use efficiency in growing
and finishing beef cattle
KEY OUTCOMES FOR
ENGLISH SHEEP INDUSTRY
• Increase weaning weight of lambs per hectare
• Increase forage and feed use efficiency in growing
and finishing lambs
R&D is managed by members of AHDB’s Animal Science and
Animal Breeding and Product Quality teams, in consultation
with the Beef & Lamb R&D Committee. The R&D Committee
and AHDB staff are responsible for interpreting the AHDB
Beef & Lamb Board’s strategic vision to direct the priorities for
research, and consider the relevance to industry of individual
research proposals. AHDB staff are responsible for generating
or developing internal ideas and managing the application
process for proposals from external sources, as well as
ensuring scientific scrutiny of research proposals.
Project proposals can come as a response to a tender (specific
area) or a call (more general area) or as unsolicited proposals.
Applicants who are submitting unsolicited proposals are
encouraged to discuss them with AHDB staff prior to
submission to ensure the subject is appropriate and to prevent
Proposals are submitted on the appropriate template and
reviewed by staff before going to the AHDB Beef & Lamb
R&D committee. The committee meets six times per year and
a proposal needs to be submitted around two months prior
to the meeting to allow time for reviewing. Each proposal
has a staff member allocated to it and they will act as the
liaison between the committee and the applicants. Some
proposals are sent out for peer review if additional expert
opinion is needed.
The R&D committee can recommend funding (subject to
contract), request revision and resubmission or can reject the
proposal. The applicant will be informed and an AHDB Beef &
Lamb staff member will work with them, as appropriate. If the
proposal is successful, a contract will be signed and then the
work can begin.
AHDB Beef & Lamb provide representatives to participate
in a Joint R&D Committee with HCC, QMS and AgriSearch.
This is a collaborative group comprising the UK red meat
This committee group has quarterly teleconferences or
meetings to discuss joint projects or ideas, with the aim of
one face-to-face meeting per year. This is aimed at avoiding
duplication and maximising co-funding opportunities.
AHDB generally funds a total of 15 PhD studentships (see
page 23) per annum and issues a call for studentships in
early summer for a deadline in September. Applicants are
expected to demonstrate that their proposals meet the
priorities of AHDB.
The winning applicants are informed the following January
and the student generally starts in October.
AHDB Beef & Lamb welcomes the opportunity to work as an
industrial partner within CASE PhDs (see page 23). Currently
seven of the 20 current PhD studentships are funded as part
of the collaborative awards.
AHDB has an annual studentship seminar where all PhD
students present. It provides a good opportunity for students
to gain experience of presenting and builds their awareness of
what else AHDB is funding.
AHDB Beef & Lamb organises an annual workshop aimed at
consultants, advisers and vets. Its objective is to communicate
the results of the work that has been completed and is ongoing.
Although there are not as many beef or sheep advisers or
consultants as in other sectors, they still have an important role
in communicating best practice and the latest science to levy
payers. It also provides a networking opportunity.
Please contact Karen Morris (see page 25) to register an
interest to attend.
DEVELOPING SHEEP EXPERTISE
Following on from the success of Developing Beef Expertise,
AHDB Beef & Lamb is working with British Institute of
Agricultural Consultants to develop a continuous professional
development course for sheep consultants and advisers. The
first meeting of the 12-month programme will be in late 2016.
This programme will include detailed updates on current
research projects and will aim to encourage consultants and
advisers to develop research and knowledge transfer activities.
24 | R&D PROCESS
AHDB BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW
CONTACT THE TEAM
Name Job Contact Details Areas Of Interest
Head of Animal
024 7647 8824
Dr Mary Vickers
Beef & Lamb
Dr Liz Genever
Beef & Lamb
Grass and forage
Suckler cow efficiency
(Grass and Forage)
Grass and forage
Livestock in arable rotations
024 7647 8826
Meat & Livestock
Selection for slaughter
024 7647 8828
AHDB BEEF & LAMB R&D REVIEW CONTACT THE TEAM | 25