Can 100% Pasture-Based Livestock Farming Produce Enough Ruminant Meat to Meet the Current Consumption Demand in the UK?

Aiming Qi, Louise Whatford, Sophie Payne-Gifford, Richard Cooke, Steven Van Winden, Barbara Hӓsler, David Barling

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Grassland is grouped into temporary, permanent, and rough grazing types in the United Kingdom (UK), making up more than 60% of the national agricultural land area. It provides avenues for grazed fodder or ensiled forage contributing a large proportion of the diets consumed by cattle and sheep. The official agricultural census data in 2011 to 2020 showed that, on average, UK cattle and sheep farming can produce meat to satisfy 83.3 and 100.8% of domestic cattle beef and sheep meat consumption levels, respectively. Out of the large agricultural census datasets, we used the populations of cattle and sheep, as well as the UK definition of a standard livestock unit (SLU), to normalise the respective herd populations into a total standard livestock unit (TSLU). We then used the annual domestic meat production in dressed carcass weight to calculate cattle and sheep meat productivity per SLU. Using the potential herbal dry matter yields per year and areas of the different grassland types across the UK, the potential total available pasture feed was calculated. This potential production of herbal biomass was translated into the potential carrying capacity expressed in a TSLU. This total potential carrying capacity was partitioned into cattle and sheep sectors so that the routes of pasture-based-only options with which to produce ruminant meat to meet the current UK domestic consumption demands were assessed. The estimated mean potential annual pasture forage feed in 2011–2020 was approximately 82.0 million (M) metric tonnes (t), which can be translated into a potential carrying capacity of 17.9 M SLUs compared with the current mean 9.36 M SLUs in the survey data of the UK. With the ratio of sheep to cattle at 8.2:25 in the national TSLU, the UK national demands at present consumption levels of cattle and sheep meat can be arithmetically met with pasture grass utilisation rates at or above 65% and 50% by cattle and sheep farming systems, respectively.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-206
Number of pages22
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2023


  • grassland productivity
  • cattle
  • sheep
  • standard livestock unit
  • ruminant meat
  • potential carrying capacity.


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