Scottish cattle population study could help reduce emissions

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NEW research looking into the cattle population in Scotland could help to reduce emissions if advice from the analysis is followed. 

It is the most in-depth analysis of Scotland’s beef cattle population that has ever been done. Doing the research on a wider scale reflects the industry more accurately.

The research by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) on behalf of the Scottish Government. 

It highlights that beef production is unevenly distributed around the country, with only 15 percent of suckler herds having 100 cows or more but collectively accounting for half of the national herd.  

Credit: SRUC

This is compared to 39 per cent of the businesses having fewer than 20 cows which accounted for only 6 percent of the national herd.

The analysis examined all aspects: technical performance of herds at a business level, on-farm mortality, calving intervals, calf registration rates, heifer calving ages and finishing ages.

The analysis found wide variation in performance between farms and also between years. 

Credit SRUC

Steven Thomson, Senior Agricultural Economist at SRUC and lead author of the study, said: “This analysis has been a challenge to complete due to the complexity of the industry but thanks to the Scottish Government’s strategic Rural Affairs, Food, and Environment research programme we have been able to provide a unique insight into the national herd at a time when agricultural policy is evolving rapidly. 

“Herd performance on farms is increasingly under scrutiny and this analysis allows us to demonstrate to the Scottish Government how farmers and crofters can help deliver emission reductions while maintaining output levels across the sector.”

Andrew Moxey one of the report’s co-authors, said: “The report confirms the incredible diversity of beef production across Scotland, but also reveals possibilities for the types of changes needed to reduce emissions.  

“Balancing emission reductions with other policy objectives, including food production and biodiversity enhancement, will be challenging but analysis such as this helps to inform debates about how it can be achieved.”