Climate change – how should UK livestock producers adapt?   

25 Aug 2008

 Scientists and farmers need to ask themselves two questions when considering the possible impact of climate change on current UK livestock production systems – do systems need to be more ‘sustainable’ and should we be doing more to prepare for the future? That was the advice that Peter Rowlinson, of Newcastle University, offered delegates at this year’s British Society of Animal Science annual conference during his presentation about adapting livestock management systems to climate change. Climate change in the UK will manifest as greater weather variability, with an increase in temperatures and a reduction in rainfall, if the experts are to be believed. “So what do these changes mean for our livestock production systems?” asked Dr Rowlinson. “And what will be their direct and indirect impact?” For ruminants, which have a high degree of ‘thermal tolerance’ compared to the pigs and poultry, the direct impact is expected to be minimal apart from where there is ‘extreme’ weather. “There is some good news – warmer springs may see reduced lamb mortality rates. But for some dairy herds, thermal stress may become an issue and more shelter and water may be required on some units. In more extreme cases, herds may need to be housed in cooled and ventilated accommodation during the summer,” he said. “High temperatures that result in heat stress could reduce cow longevity, as well as dry matter intakes and productivity.” The indirect impact of climate change is expected to be greater. “The escalating feed:fuel conflict could result in a feed supply shortage, as well as highlighting the issue of ‘feed miles’ too,” says Dr Rowlinson. “Diseases, like bluetongue, could also become more prevalent as temperatures increase and this will have a serious negative impact on the UK’s livestock population. “On the plus side, conditions could be more favourable for forage conservation. Early season grass growth, due to increased spring temperatures and rainfall, may result in top quality forages being produced and there should also be plenty of it. “These are just some of the immediate factors that we need to look at. We also need to concentrate on management approaches and genetic improvement programmes. More production from fewer animals will not only be more efficient, it will also result in reduced green house gas emissions,” he added. Presented to the British Society of Animal Science Annual Meeting, March 31 to April 2, 2008, Scarborough, UK. Full details: Rowlinson and Wall E: “Adapting livestock management, feeding and breeding systems to climate change.” summary (pdf)   Presentation_294rowlinson (pdf) PDF of Powerpoint presentations available at http://www.bsas.org.uk/Members_Area/ Email: peter.rowlinson@ncl.ac.uk or eileen.wall@sac.ac.uk      View all summaries