Dr. G. Cliff Lamb (right) on his father's livestock and crop operation in Rhodesia as a young boy.
Growing up on his father’s livestock and crop operation in Rhodesia, Dr. G. Cliff Lamb was surrounded by cattle, pigs and sheep almost from the moment he was born. The lifestyle influenced his interest in livestock reproduction and still informs his perspective today as head of the Department of Animal Science in Texas A&M University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
In Africa, Lamb also saw what can happen to food production in times of unrest. His homeland erupted into civil war from 1976 to 1979, resulting in the country’s reconstitution as Zimbabwe in 1980. Subsequently, in the late 1990s, the ruling party’s policies decimated the country’s once-bountiful agricultural industry as 6,000 farms were stripped from landowners, including those of the Lamb family and friends. The country’s food production, which previously nourished its citizens as well as surrounding nations, now feeds only one-quarter of its population.
Lamb’s career has been deeply influenced by watching the ramifications of this crisis unfold for his family, community, country and the surrounding nations in southern Africa. Those lessons help inform his approach to the looming threat of another food crisis: As the world’s population grows to a projected nine billion people by 2050, the global demand for animal protein will increase by 120%.
In preparation for this pending population shift, the beef cattle industry is focused on increasing its efficiency. “Dr. Lamb has offered a new approach to the department through his fresh thinking,” said Coleman Locke, a donor to the Department of Animal Science and president of J.D. Hudgins Inc., a family-owned ranch in Hungerford, Texas, that first developed the American Brahman breed in the 1920s. “He is building on all of the university’s previous successes and broadening the department’s horizons.”
Growing up, Dr. G. Cliff Lamb gained an appreciation for the animal industry from his father, Mick Lamb (right).
Lamb, who served as assistant director of the University of Florida-North Florida Research and Education Center before joining Texas A&M in 2017, is setting an innovative direction that deepens the department’s work while aligning it more closely with industry and global needs. “The production of animal protein using methods that are economically and environmentally sustainable for generations will be critical to feeding human populations in the future,” he said. “Generating science-based knowledge and disseminating that knowledge to students and stakeholders is the responsibility of our department.”
To that aim, the department’s research efforts are currently focused on several areas of excellence surrounding global animal protein production, including: learning more about cattle adapted to tropical and subtropical environments; focusing on pregnancy and the development of cattle; and maintaining the safety, quality and nutrition of food products.
A Breed Apart
The world’s growing demand for beef will primarily affect the southern United States, Mexico, Central and South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. Producers in these areas will need to understand the breed-specific challenges related to increasing production. “There are 94 million cattle in the United States; in comparison, there are 220 million head of cattle in Brazil,” said Buck Thomason ’69, the owner of Indian Hills Ranch in Clifton, Texas, and a donor to Texas A&M’s International Beef Cattle Academy. “That’s the size of the market in Brazil, and those cattle must be heat tolerant because of the climate. Dr. Lamb recognizes that producing more heat-tolerant livestock is key to meeting industry growth, and he is steering the department in that direction.”
About 70% of the world’s beef cattle are located in tropical and sub-tropical regions. “These areas are best suited to Bos indicus-influenced breeds, such as the Brahman, Beefmaster, Brangus and Santa Gertrudis, which consume low-quality, forage-based diets and can tolerate heat, humidity and parasites,” Lamb said. “However, many cattle producers in tropical and sub-tropical regions utilize Bos taurus cattle, such as Angus and Hereford breeds, which are found in northern climates and have limited tolerance for heat, humidity, parasites and poor-quality forage. In other cases, cattle producers may raise Bos indicus cattle in these conditions but manage them in a way that Bos taurus cattle are raised in temperate regions of the world.”
Lamb leads Texas A&M University's Department of Animal Science during a critical time as the beef cattle industry focuses on increasing its efficiency.
Texas A&M animal science researchers are working to categorize how these two subspecies differ in bodily functions, such as nutritional requirements, efficiency, body composition, meat quality and reproductive physiology. This knowledge will help the industry optimize production efficiency in Bos indicus-influenced cattle.
Aggie students are also being prepared for this paradigm shift through an increased emphasis on globalization in undergraduate and graduate curricula as well as tailored opportunities for international travel to learn more from producers in tropical and sub-tropical areas. Last year, students studied abroad in New Zealand, Brazil and Mexico, all of which are home to Bos indicus-influenced breeds.
The department is further supporting the industry through the creation of the 44 Farms International Beef Cattle Academy, which graduated its first class in fall 2019. This innovative certificate program is designed to advance the knowledge of seasoned professionals around the globe who have a strong background in beef production. The academy offers online courses led by Texas A&M faculty and international guest lecturers who share the cattle industry’s latest technologies.
“Dr. Lamb’s vision for reaching out to cattle producers around the world, particularly in places that don’t have access to some of the technologies and research findings that we have in the United States, really fits with the mission of 44 Farms,” said 44 Farms CEO Bob McClaren, who made the academy’s naming gift. “Dr. Lamb just has a way about him that makes people want to work with him, learn from him and follow his vision.”