The Animal Breeding Research Organisation in Edinburgh (ABRO, founded in 1945) was a direct ancestor of the Roslin Institute, celebrated for the cloning of Dolly the sheep. After a period of sustained growth as an institute of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), ABRO was to lose most of its funding in 1981. This decision has been absorbed into the narrative of the Thatcherite attack on science, but in this article I show that the choice to restructure ABRO pre-dated major government cuts to agricultural research, and stemmed from the ARC's wish to prioritize biotechnology in its portfolio. ABRO's management embraced this wish and campaigned against the cuts based on a promise of biotechnological innovation, shifting its focus from farm animal genetics to the production of recombinant pharmaceuticals in sheep milk. By tracing interaction between government policies, research council agendas and local strategies, I show how novel research programmes such as genetic modification could act as a lifeline for struggling institutions.