FUNDING of more than £2.2m has just been awarded to Scotland’s Rural College to create three new 'centres of excellence focussed on livestock feeding efficiency and meat eating quality.

The finance, from the Government’s Innovate UK Fund, was won via the Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock, a consortium of 12 animal science research institutes, including SRUC.

Work on the three projects will begin soon, with the first involving a new feed mill designed to manufacture experimental pig and poultry diets under accurate and precise conditions. Another will be a laboratory equipped to develop faster ways of measuring meat eating quality, with the information then used in animal breeding programmes. The third facility will utilise the latest sensor technology to make sheep production more efficient by identifying animals best able to convert the feed they eat into marketable meat.

Head of innovation for CIEL, Dr Mark Young, said: “These investments add to what has already been committed by government through CIEL into upgrading and developing research facilities and equipment across the animal science research institutions. They provide opportunities for industry to more strongly engage with these groups to develop innovations that will lead to improved systems for managing livestock efficiently and producing better quality meat, milk and egg products”

Outlining the significance of the experimental feed mill, SRUC Animal and Veterinary Sciences Group manager Professor Nick Sparks said: “There are very few facilities available in Europe able to achieve what we are aiming for in this new unit. When combined with the new poultry growing facilities that CIEL and SRUC are investing in and the pig and poultry facilities already existing in the CIEL consortium, the new feed manufacturing mill gives our pig and poultry industry world-leading research capability.

"Apart from studying the addition of enzymes and micro-nutrients, this capability will allow us to really investigate the use of home grown proteins in diets as well as new varieties of cereals," he added. "This investment has the potential to reduce import bills and offer new market opportunities for Britain’s arable sector.”

SRUC expert on the use of genomes of farm livestock, Professor Mike Coffey, said that the other two projects would help livestock breeders to raise productivity and quality.

“For generations breeders have been able to select for growth, yield, colour or weight," said Prof Coffey. "Less obvious traits, like eating quality or feed efficiency are far harder to identify and select for. But our knowledge of the genome, when linked to the right data, collected in real time, would inform breeding selections or help develop production systems offering genuine economic and environmental gains.”

With regard to the meat quality work, Prof Coffey added: “The ability to select for improved meat quality will help position British beef on home and international markets and also help protect our producers from cheap low quality imports. Assessing qualities like succulence, taste and texture within the abattoir at line speed has been an elusive goal for many processors. This new facility will enable in-house meat quality measurements to be taken and calibrated leading to an overall better meat eating experience for consumers."

NFU Scotland policy manager John Armour commented: “This funding secured by SRUC is positive and the livestock sector will be particularly interested in seeing the results on their research into eating quality and feed efficiency. Ultimately this research will only result in positive change if it can be adopted by the industry – it is therefore important that the industry be consulted as part of this work stream.”