Research could improve industry efficiency and sustainability

LIVESTOCK producers are set to benefit from research being undertaken by three PhD students working on new projects which, if successful, could lead to improved industry efficiency and sustainability.

The research is being co-funded by Hybu Cig Cymru - Meat Promotion Wales, Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), and EBLEX and will focus on grassland management and animal health.

Good grassland management is becoming increasingly important as the ability of grassland to store carbon becomes more widely recognised.

This is particularly important to farmers who have grass-based production systems and it is well known that carbon is stored in the soil — but there is little understanding of how grass management affects this process.

Lucy Marum, of the James Hutton Institute and Aberdeen University, will be undertaking studies which aim to answer the question of whether grazing can be managed to increase the amount of carbon retained in soil in the long-term.

Her three-year project will be carried out on upland grassland soils and aims to look at the types of management practices and activities in grassland systems that can potentially influence and alter carbon storage — including changes in stocking levels, fertilizer inputs and the timing of application.

Maintaining animal health is another key element of livestock farming, with digital dermatitis an infectious bacterial disease which affects the feet of ruminants and causes lameness and loss of productivity.

It was first identified in the UK in 1987, and it is now estimated that at least 70 per cent of UK herds are affected. There is no single effective treatment and the way in which the disease is transmitted is unknown.

Leigh Sullivan, of the University of Liverpool, will spend her three-year project working to identify the specific environmental risk factors which may increase the risk of digital dermatitis levels in cattle and sheep.

She will also be identifying the main reservoirs of infection and exploring the way in which the immune systems of cattle respond to infection.

The increasing incidence of worms resistant to wormers is also a major concern and there is an urgent need for new control methods.

The work that Henry Gum of the University of Glasgow, will be carrying out in his project will explore some possible routes to developing new control method for Haemonchus contortus — a blood sucking stomach worm that can lead to anaemia, poor growth and ultimately cause the death of livestock.

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