Above from left: Sheep farmer Kate Beavan and beef farmer Duncan Parker
Our guide to the livestock industry looks at what hardworking British farmers do every day, the sector's value to our economy, its outstanding welfare credentials, strong environmental track record and the nutritional value of beef and lamb products.
Livestock is a term used to describe animals, such as cows and sheep, that are kept on farm and traded as a source of income. For the purpose of this Q&A we will focus on farming in Britain which involves beef cows and sheep.
Select a question below to learn more:
According to the UK’s National Food Survey in 2017, there is a slight reduction in the amount of people eating red meat with consumption down by 4.2%. The veganism trend has become more vocal in the public domain but according to the Vegan Society they still only make up 1% of the UK population. They are a small but vocal part of the population, with a vocal base of supporters on social media.
Red meat is one of the richest sources of essential nutrients such as iron, zinc and B vitamins in the diet. It is a significant source of protein and modern red meat now has much lower fat contents than 20 years ago, with fully trimmed lean beef containing just 5% fat. It is recognised as an important part of a balanced diet.
Despite some misconceptions, eating up to the recommended intake of red meat is unlikely to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer.
For a healthy and balanced diet, the government’s recommended maximum intake of red meat is 70g a day (cooked weight) and the World Cancer Research Fund recommends eating no more than 500g of red meat (cooked weight) each week.
In 2017 there were 15,757,000 total sheep and lambs in England and 10,037,000 in Wales and 721,000 beef cattle in England and 168,000 in Wales. As the industry goes through significant change with Brexit on the horizon, the number of cattle and sheep in the UK is likely to change depending on the outcome. However, the NFU has been clear that it does not support a reduction in the numbers of cattle and sheep in the UK.
Using sheds or indoor housing is vital to many farming systems within the UK. This ensures farmers can maintain the highest possible welfare of their livestock, by protecting them from the extremes of our climate. The inclement weather we experience in our winter period also means that grazing is difficult – both because of the lack of grass growth and the risk of damaging the land. As well as for temperature control, cattle are sometimes housed inside in order to protect them from diseases and to monitor how much they are eating and drinking.
Around 65% of farmland in the UK is only suitable for growing grass for animals to eat, so it’s not suitable for growing crops such as wheat and barley.
Sheep are sheared for a number of welfare reasons. Shearing takes place once a year in the spring so that the sheep do not become overheated in the summer.
Additionally, a long fleece can decrease a sheep’s mobility and increase the prevalence of conditions such as flystrike. Shearing does not hurt a sheep; it’s like getting a haircut.
Cows and sheep are a quintessential part of the British landscape and have created many of our most iconic landcsapes.
Beef and sheep farmers in the UK know they have a responsibility to reduce their impact on the environment. Many are already taking measures to reduce their impact.
Grassland is a really good store pf carbon - if this land was disturbed and put to other uses, much of that carbon would be lost to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. There are also examples where cows and sheep are critical to the lifecycle of wildlife for example, the Large Blue Butterfly.
Beef and lamb farming in the UK also doesn’t require imported soya as feed so it doesn’t contribute towards deforestation in other parts of the world.
When shopping in the supermarket, remember to check the food labels for the Red Tractor logo and British flag, and if buying from a local butcher you can always ask where the meat has come from. Take a look at our Buying Guide here to find out which retailers are backing British beef and lamb.
Emissions from UK livestock are estimated to be around 5%.
British Livestock and Climate Change highlights how beef and sheep farmers across the UK are embracing a diversity of practices which both reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions and enable them to be better prepared for the impacts of a changing climate. For example:
By using co-products like distillers' grains and by-products like bread crusts, livestock farmers like Robert Brunt (pictured above) help reduce the food chain’s Greenhouse Gas footprint.
In 2017, twenty-three UK livestock farmers showcased their contributions to meeting the climate challenge - read their stories in full here.The Greenhouse Gas Action Plan (GHGAP) which was launched by a coalition of industry partners in 2011 as the principal mechanism for delivering the farming industry’s commitment to a reduction in annual emissions from agriculture in England of three million tonnes CO2-equivalent (Mt CO2e) by 2020 without compromising domestic production.
Once an animal reaches slaughter weight it is either sent to market or transported directly from the farm to the abattoir for slaughter.
It is a legal requirement for animals to be slaughtered humanely and treated well throughout the process. Abattoirs must have adequate lighting, ventilation and shelter in order to prevent unnecessary stress or suffering with highly trained staff.
Meat is then bought, prepared and packaged ready for purchase in food retailer shops. To ensure the meat has been produced at a high standard, look for the food assurance scheme logos on packaging.
Do you want to support the livestock industry? Take a look at our social media toolkit complete with handy facts, myth busting figures and pictures which you can share on social media.
Further information - useful links
:: The NFU is not responsible for the content on external websites.