Mike McMorris, LRIC CEO
The Perfect Beast
About two years ago, in the context of initiating a national genetic improvement program, I asked the members of the beef value chain round table what they would like to see changed in cattle.
The packer representative had an interesting answer: “Make them identical so that I can use robots to process them.” This was related to the ongoing labour issues that processors were and still are facing.
When you look beyond beef cattle, having identical animals entering a processing plant is actually more the norm than the exception. There is very little variation in market hogs and chickens. The push for more homogeneous market cattle will be stronger as a result of COVID-19 and the impact it has had on processing plants.
Defining and producing the perfect beast is much harder for the beef and sheep sectors than for hogs and chickens because they are raised in very different environments. The beef and sheep sectors also have significantly more breeds and genetic variation within and across those breeds. This greater genetic variation is in part a logical means of producing animals in different environments but also comes from a lack of market feedback that would drive genetic selection, and the passion held by breeders for their particular breed.
The move toward more automation in processing plants,
tied to economic signals
back down the supply chain, will force some sectors to address the issue of reducing variation in market animals. Defining the perfect beast will take many years and in that time industry will also need to address:
easy data collection; basic use of data by the collector; data ownership and sharing; identifying how data will be used to benefit the entire supply chain; and the incorporation of artificial intelligence where it can add value.
I have seen too many attempts at this discussion where these topics are not bridged together and so nothing comes from it.