Scottish Agricultural College is involving 4,000 UK farms in research to improve knowledge of how the on-farm management of pregnant animals influences the health, welfare and productivity of their offspring later in life. The project will support the development of evidence-based "best practice" advice for farmers and policymakers.

The college is asking randomly selected beef, dairy, sheep and pig farmers to complete a questionnaire on the feeding, husbandry and health care of their pregnant livestock. “A substantial body of research — including that carried out at SAC — strongly suggests that prenatal conditions do affect animals later in life, but no one has ever attempted to see how relevant these studies are for real life conditions on UK farms," said Scottish Agricultural College Animal Welfare Scientist Dr. Kenny Rutherford. “The survey will shed light on which practices carry most risk and also help identify those that bring benefits. The ultimate aim is to help farmers review how their management of breeding animals could affect their business and to provide evidence-based advice on enhancing the health, welfare and productivity of their stock.”

The new project may also identify areas of current farming practice that have not been considered in the previous research, said Rutherford. This will allow future research to focus on issues of the most relevance to producers. “In this way, the survey provides a real opportunity for farmers to influence the direction of future research,” said Rutherford.