Sheep Now Subject to CT Scans for Selective Breeding

CT scanning livestock to determine which animals to breed could soon become commonplace

Researchers in Scotland are testing whether CT scanners can help farmers select the best sheep to breed to produce the leanest meat.

The machines, originally designed to detect human cancer tumors, take a series of X-rays images of the animals’ bodies, measuring the fat and muscle content so only those with desirable body types will be chosen for future breeding.

The sheep are sedated and then strapped to a conveyor before passing through the scanner.

Credit: Daily Mail, Sheep being CT scanned at Nottingham University

The scans are intended to help farmers meet customer demand for less fatty meat.

In the past, farmers relied on an expert eye to pick the best ram in the flock – the one with the highest muscle content and lowest amount of fat.

The CT scanner gives a much more accurate picture, allowing farmers to breed lambs with “superior” genes and up to 4 pounds of extra meat.  It takes three minutes for a sheep to be scanned


University of Nottingham biologist Kevin Sinclair, who is leading the scanning program at Scotland’s Agricultural College, denied that the practice amounts to genetic engineering.

“Genetic modification conjures up all the wrong images in people’s minds,” Sinclair told the Daily Mail.

“What we’re doing here is a process of selection, akin to natural selection, except we’re speeding up the process and selecting for characteristics that we favor.”

‘This isn’t new,” he added. “Domestication in farm animals occurred 10,000 years ago and we’ve been doing it ever since.  By using the technology we can do it with greater precision and accuracy that ever before.”

“As farmers I think we have a real duty at this moment in time to produce food more efficiently,” breeder Charles Sercombe said.

“I think we have a duty to the general population to produce faster growing, more muscled animals that use less resources and have less impact on the climate.”