CT Scans Boost Flock Quality
Researchers say the
process is just speeding up natural selection
a live sheep into a CT scanner looks ungainly, even slightly comical, but
the science behind it has serious implications for Britain's national flock.
One by one they are mildly sedated by a vet and then strapped to a gurney,
complete with head cushion for comfort. Once loaded on to the machine itself,
a slow conveyor takes them through the large white, donut-shaped scanner.
is not happening because the animal is hurt or injured, in fact the Charollais
ram is in tip top condition and his owner wants more like him. Dr Kevin
Sinclair, a professor in developmental biology at The University of Nottingham,
is helping farmers pick the best of the best to breed better quality meat
into their flocks. He says:
argument for lamb becoming less popular as a meat is because people complain
about it being too fatty.
"Breeders are increasingly testing their animals for leanness and this
does it with pinpoint accuracy."
a real duty at this moment in time to produce food more efficiently Charles
Sercombe, sheep farmer When asked about the issues surrounding genetics
in farming he added:
modification conjures up all the wrong images in people's minds.
"What we're doing here is a process of selection, akin to natural selection,
except we're speeding up the process and selecting for characteristics that
we favour. "This isn't new. Domestication in farm animals occurred
10,000 years ago and we've been doing it ever since. "By using the
technology we can do it with greater precision and accuracy that ever before."
mobile scanner was brought down to Nottingham from the Scottish Agricultural
College in Edinburgh which developed the technique.
university is the only place it has been used south of the border and it
has been such a hit with farmers it is hoped a permanent unit will be set
up at its Sutton Bonnington campus by the end of the year.
system has already improved the yield of some flocks Virtual cross-section
slices appear on a radiologist's screen as each lamb passes through the
former NHS scanner. The images show the animal's fat, muscle and bone content.
To improve their stock, farmers are looking for less fat and more muscle.
The information is being put to good use by Charles Sercombe, who has a
sheep farm in Leicestershire. At £85 per animal, he can only afford
to scan a hand-picked trailer full, but believes it is a good investment
for the future of his flock.
the best of the best, Mr Sercombe says he can achieve better margins and
sustainability: "As farmers I think we have a real duty at this moment
in time to produce food more efficiently. "There are obviously finite
resources on this planet and I think we have a duty to the general population
to produce faster growing, more muscled animals that use less resources
and have less impact on the climate." The superior genes of his fitter,
leaner lambs fetch a premium when sold for breeding. The programme is being
welcomed by an industry worth £822m a year in Britain.
Mr Sercombe says the breeding programme has already increased his yield
per lamb by two kilos. It will take two to three years for that to filter
down through his whole flock and longer still to reach the general sheep
as more farmers cotton on to this technology the future of British lamb
is looking good.