Defining sheep wellbeing is focus of top livestock researcher

Terry Sim, September 24, 2021

SALRC scientist-researcher of the year Dr Wayne Pitchford with farm dog Milly.

DEFINING objective measures for livestock and their products should be major foci of Australia’s agricultural research sector, according to University of Adelaide researcher Dr Wayne Pitchford.

Dr Pitchford is the 2021 Southern Australia Livestock Research Council Scientist/Researcher of Year for 2021 and outlined his thoughts on research priorities in his acceptance response.

When asked by SALRC chair Ian Rogan what livestock issues researchers should be focussing on in the next 5-10 years, Dr Pitchford said obvious topics included sustainable productivity, developing new cultivars and multi-species pasture systems either in farm mosaics or within paddocks.

“All those things are important ongoing, but I think the biggest single thing that we really should be focussed on is developing objectively measures, not only of lean meat yield and eating quality, but of things like pain and wellbeing in sheep.”

Dr Pitchford is the director of the university’s Davies Livestock Research Centre and he said sheep wellbeing and pain is a major new focus of his group. He is excited about the opportunity to work with medical technologists to bring their knowledge into the livestock industry.

“And as we do that we learn things about the physiology of mammals that then can be applied back to people.

“For me, the final chapter of my career I think will be very much around that excitement around developing objective measures of those things,” he said.

“Once we have objective measure we can actually improve pain drugs, we can improve management systems, we can improve breeding programs, we can do all sorts of things,” he said.

The professor and director in livestock science at the University of Adelaide said MLA has supported his career since he was a Phd student and has built a career based on sheep and cattle genetics research which has helped him understand the impact of maternal productivity. This work had led him to build skills in feed efficiency and farm productivity, and in meat quality and processing, by following animals into abattoirs.

Dr Pitchford is now director of the Davies Livestock Research Centre and is focusing on genomic breeding, objective measurement of meat quality traits such as eating quality and lean meat yield, maternal productivity and improving production system efficiency.

“One of the wonderful things I have been able to do in the last five years is to buy our own farm and be in partnership with my eldest son, he runs that,” he said.

“Lots of small business go broke in the first two years and we’re five years in and we haven’t dropped out yet, so I guess that’s a good sign.

“It’s really great to be grounded in having your own place as well.”


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