Beef cattle

Beef cattle

Producing sustainable, climate-friendly food is a growing priority in English farming, and nowhere is this more the case than in managing cattle.
Beef herd at feeding unit in field. Picture: Ruth Downing.
Beef herd at feeding unit in field. Picture: Ruth Downing.

There are an estimated 5.4 million cattle in England, with some farms specialising in rearing cattle for beef, and others for their milk. Some farms rear both, and others mix cattle with arable farming. 

The sector’s commitment to the idea that food, farming and nature are interlinked, is best shown by its efforts to lower the carbon footprint of the herd. Government incentives and subsidies are available to support more sustainable ways of farming. These sustainable farming methods already mean that English beef has about half the carbon footprint of other global beef.

While many traditional roles around animal husbandry and stock control remain, there's also a call for new skills in areas like data analysis, regenerative agriculture and animal nutrition and health.

Technology improving land management

New technology is being used to control how and where cows graze. Sensors and GPS collars can now track where the herd is feeding, allowing farmers to prevent areas from being over-grazed. By actively managing pasture and grazing land, farmers are creating wildlife habitats and taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, while more grazing is also being carried out on land that is unsuitable for crops.

Animal diets are also changing. Methane released by so called ‘cow burps’ is a major greenhouse gas, but new additives including natural ones based on seaweed, are being fed to cows as a way to reduce these emissions. 

Slurry management is also important and some farms have introduced special digestors which draw methane off from the manure and convert it into green energy that can be used on-farm. More and more farms are also ditching traditional diesel vehicles for a new generation of tractors run on electricity and biofuels.

High standards of animal welfare

Regulators and the public all expect farmers to maintain high standards of animal welfare. By signing up to food assurance schemes, such as Red Tractor, farmers can show the food they produce has been grown to meet these standards. Beef farmers must also meet tight controls around traceability of the meat.

Many beef farms are also moving towards organic ways of farming to meet a growing public demand. There's ongoing research into new breeding techniques which can make livestock more resistant to disease and less dependent on antibiotics and other medicines. Both developments offer new career opportunities.

Sustainability stories in beef

Many beef farmers also use social media to reach out to potential customers, posting about the sustainability and quality of their beef and often selling through farmers markets or directly to the public. 

Find out more about other sectors in farming and growing in England.