Farmers' Cattle Breeding Choices: balancing productivity, sustainability and food security objectives.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: College of Science and Engineering


Cattle (bovine) breeding is an area of intense debate, and the economic potential of improved breeding means that this is likely to continue into the future. Through breeding, farmers have the ability to influence a number of factors that are related to food security. I aim to focus on production and sustainability and how this impacts food security. Specifically, this project is designed to investigate farmers' past, present and future breeding decisions in the bovine production industry looking at both beef and dairy cattle. The study will focus on the geographical area of the United Kingdom as the case study area. An analysis of variation of approaches to breeding across geographic areas, production systems, farming styles and farm specific production objectives will help revealing the diversity and complexity of factors that drive breeding and herd management decisions.

Objectives and Hypothesis

This research project focuses on the following research questions:
1. Which traits do farmers value in cattle, and what is their relative importance when making breeding decisions?
2. Which decision strategies and what type of information do farmers use when making breeding choices?
3. How do breeders and farmers trade off short term and long-term breeding objectives in the light of sustainable production goals?
4. Which geographical and farm-specific factors explain breeding choices and preferences for short- and long-term breeding objectives?
5. Do generational differences influence farmers breeding choices?

The research in the MScR programme will be mainly inductive and thus not set up to test hypotheses based on theory. While previous research suggests that economic productivity and short-term production goals may be main drivers of breeding decisions, there may be a broader set of contextual and behavioral drivers such as phenotypical expressions or habit. This highlights the importance of taking an open approach to this research, which will serve as the basis of more focused and possibly quantitative investigations in a deductive manner.

How the research will be communicated to the wider community
As this project is forming year 1 of a 1+3 studentship within the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science, all knowledge and information gathered within the MScR programme will be directly benefit the remaining 3 years of PhD research. Over the course of the PhD studentship, I aim to develop a number of academic research outputs with the following prospective titles, targeted at academics in agricultural and veterinary sciences, and in ecological and agricultural economics:

Paper 1: Why do cattle farmers (not) consider genomic breeding information? An investigation based on perceptions of industry stakeholders (e.g., Journal of Dairy Science; Livestock Science)
Paper 2: Breeding decisions of cattle farmers: understanding barriers to the use of genetic selection tools (e.g., Journal of Dairy Science; Livestock Science)
Paper 3: A typology of breeding choices of cattle farmers: An analysis of genetic traits in bull semen selection data (e.g., Journal of Dairy Science; Livestock Science)
Paper 4: Trade-offs and synergies between profit and sustainability objectives in cattle breeding goals (e.g., Ecological Economics; Environmental Science and Policy)

Apart from targeting the academic audience, I aim to provide short pieces summarizing my research for policy and industry stakeholders. Options to be explored include using blog posts (e.g., presentation of research findings in industry and policy stakeholder meetings, and writing short pieces for policy and industry newsletters or magazines.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000681/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
2277270 Studentship ES/P000681/1 30/09/2019 31/12/2023 Jillian Gordon