Defra - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Science Search

Science and Research Projects

Return to Science Search homepage   Return to Project List

Reducing the numbers of unproductive and poorly productive animals in suckler beef and sheep production systems: a review - LS3312

The UK has a number of international treaty obligations that aim to reduce the amount of diffuse gaseous pollutants emitted to the environment.

One way to meet these treaty obligations would be for the UK to reduce its total numbers of ruminant livestock (principally cattle and sheep) since these animals are one of the major sources of diffuse gaseous emissions. However, if UK farms were to reduce the numbers of animals which contribute to the overall output of the farm, it would have adverse consequences for the economic sustainability of those farms since the volume of saleable food products from the business would diminish. These farms may be particularly susceptible to reduced food product sales given the change from headage based subsidy payments to single income payment (SIP) that has now been agreed by the European Union (EU). SIP payments actually received by the farm business are projected to be < 90% of the previous headage-based subsidy payments.

Conversely, if these farms could find ways to reduce the numbers of unproductive animals on the farm without adversely affecting the volume or quality of food product sales, it would have positive benefits in that overall farm costs would be reduced, thereby enhancing economic sustainability. In addition, environmental benefits would accrue from a reduction in overall animal numbers and a reduction in the GHG and NH3 emissions associated with them.

All breeding cattle and sheep enterprises have animals associated with them that do not directly produce saleable food products or they produce products of inferior quality (e.g. replacement females reared on the farm, barren animals that fail to produce any offspring and animals of low genetic merit that result in poor product quality). However, these animals do make nutrient demands (feed) upon the system in which they live and therefore present a problem in terms of efficiency in the overall production system. The underlying biological inefficiency with which feed is used for productive purposes also results in the emission of diffuse gaseous pollutants (GHG and NH3).

UK suckler beef and sheep systems have gone through an unprecedented period of low profitability in recent years. If beef and sheep farmers are to return to profitability in future years and thereby ensure long term sustainability, then farmers must be prepared to adapt existing production systems to meet this challenge. Farmers could adapt their systems to minimise the costs associated with unproductive livestock within the overall farming system and at the same time, reduce environmental diffuse pollution.

The proposed work would seek to identify and review the potential methods by which farmers could reduce the numbers of unproductive livestock on farms and quantify the consequences of doing so with regard to animal productivity, economic sustainability and environmental consequences. Key messages would be extracted for transfer to both Government and industry stakeholders.
1. To identify methods that would bring about a reduction in the numbers of unproductive and poorly productive animals within suckler beef and sheep production systems in the UK.

2. To review the animal productivity gains or losses from each method identified in (1) for each of the suckler beef and sheep systems reviewed.

3. To simulate the economic consequences of adopting each method to reduce the numbers of unproductive animals.

4. To quantify the environmental gains or losses from each method identified.

5. To extract key messages suitable for knowledge transfer to stakeholders.
Project Documents
• Final Report : Reducing the numbers of unproductive and poorly productive animals in suckler beef and sheep production   (287k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2004

To: 2005

Cost: £27,795
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Animal Production              
Environmental Impact              
Livestock Farming              
Sustainable Farming and Food              
Sustainable Production              
Fields of Study