Busy summer for SRUC’s new mobile CT scanner

The new mobile CT scanner run by Scotland's Rural College, faces a busy summer on the road
The new mobile CT scanner run by Scotland's Rural College, faces a busy summer on the road

The new mobile CT scanner run by Scotland’s Rural College, faces a busy summer on the road.

Following their recent appearance in Strathpeffer at the HighlandSheep 2017 event the scanner, in its purpose built trailer, will be travelling as far as the southwest of England providing livestock breeders, processors and researchers with unique insights into meat yields, fat distribution and other traits important for breeding programmes.

During July and August the unit will be seen in Aberystwyth, Dorset, Devon and Warwickshire, as well as its home base in Edinburgh. In addition to scanning the animals presented by breeders the team will be explaining what they can offer at promotional days planned for NSA Sheep Southwest at Tiverton on June 20t , the former Royal Show ground at Stoneleigh on July 3rd and Aberystwyth University on August 28th.

Jointly funded by SRUC and CIEL (Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock), one of the four Agri-Tech Innovation Centres supported by UK government, the new multi-slice scanner is fast, capturing 16 images at once.

It not only collects more detailed information about the subject but, because of its speed, offers improved welfare as the live animals spend less time in the process, compared to previous CT scanners.

It can also generate 3D images offering new ways to measure traits linked to the animal’s composition, conformation and shape or product quality.

SRUC’s Animal and Veterinary Sciences group has operated a scanning service for the last two decades.

While they are best known for their work with pedigree sheep they have also worked with live farmed salmon as well as plants, soil cores and even meat joints.

They want to expand those services.

“The sheep sector knows us well,” says sheep geneticist Nicola Lambe who manages the CT Unit.

“Owners of key breeds of pedigree terminal sire sheep regularly submit their selected stock to help evaluate the best rams to breed from for meat yield, optimal fat levels etc.

“However the technology could be just as useful to the pig sector for example. Many other researchers might be interested if they knew of our existence, for example those studying obesity in domestic pets.”

The team are also involved in a joint project with the Texel Sheep Society and meat processor ABP in Dorset considering aspects of breeding lambs for “Taste versus Waste”, which links live measurements with those of final meat cuts.

The information provided by the scanner is valuable in its own right but the primary benefit to SRUC is its ability to support the colleges’ work on genomics and breeding research.

The physical measurements (or “phenotypes”) it provides of traits that are hard to measure or predict by other means will lead to a better understanding of how genetics drives improvement in food products and help guide worldwide developments in sustainable agriculture.

Scanner summer schedule:

20th June, NSA Southwest, Tiverton.

3rd to 6th July – Stoneleigh – Promo day and Texel, Hampshire Downs South Downs

July – Dorset – Taste v Waste trials scanning

10th to 11th July – Edinburgh – Texels

Aug – Dorset – Taste v Waste trials scanning

August 14th - Edinburgh – Beltex

August 28th - September 1st - Texel - Innovis in Aberystwyth, plus open day