Press release 8 - SheepNet assesses the productivity of 19 sheep systems in Europe and Turkey

SheepNet assesses the productivity of 19 sheep systems in Europe and Turkey

Dr Ignacia Beltrán de Heredia, Dr Roberto Ruiz

Neiker Tecnalia, Agrifood Campus of Arkaute, P.Box 46, E-01080 Vitoria-Gasteiz

 

Summary

The EU is only 85% self-sufficient in sheep meat.  SheepNet, involving the 6 main EU sheep producing countries and Turkey, is an EU funded project aiming to improve ewe productivity. Within the SheepNet network, the reproductive and productivity indicators of 19 sheep farming systems across the EU and Turkey have been assessed.

 

Sheep production in Europe presents a great diversity of production systems due to differences in ewe genotype, environmental conditions, lambing frequently, ewes lamb management, etc. In systems that ewes lamb once annually average fertility rates range from 83 to 95%. Consequently there are a significant number of non-productive ewes in the flocks (average 5-17%). In accelerated systems (ewes lamb 3 times in 2 years) average fertility rates per lambing ranges from 59 to 77%.

 

Average prolificacy (litter size) ranges from 1.2 to 1.7 lambs born per ewe lambing. Prolificacy tends to be higher in lowlands systems (1.47) compared to systems in mountain areas (1.31). Despite the higher complexity of the management for accelerated reproductive strategies, the average prolificacy achieved (1.48) did not differ much from that obtained in the systems in which ewes lambed once per annum (1.40).

 

Data on abortion were only provided for 7 of the farming systems. The incidence of abortion ranges from 1 to 5%, although in some farms it was assessed to be over 12%.

 

The average number of lambs reared per ewe joined range from 1 to 1.5 in most of the systems assessed, even when accelerated reproductive strategies are performed. However high productive rates are achievable e.g. the Assaf breed in Spain permanently indoors in an accelerated reproductive strategy rear up to 2.5 lambs per ewe joined.

 

There are significant opportunities to improve ewe productivity in most systems by improving reproduction success and lamb survivability thus improving farm profitability. SheepNet is promoting the exchange of existing scientific and practical knowledge, innovative technologies and best practices among farmers, advisors, consultants, researchers and other stakeholders.

 

SheepNet is an EU funded project aiming to improve ewe productivity. Ewe productivity (number of lambs reared per ewe joined) is a combination of prolificacy, reproduction success, embryonic and lamb survival. SheepNet is designed to stimulate knowledge exchange between research and stakeholders to widely disseminate best practices and innovations, with the objective of increasing ewe productivity. SheepNet involves the 6 main EU sheep producing countries (Ireland, France, United Kingdom, Romania, Spain and Italy) and Turkey.

 

Sheep farming systems

There is a wide diversity of sheep farming systems in the EU and Turkey, due to different ewe genotypes, environmental conditions, etc. Data was collated on 19 of the main sheep systems from the 7 countries involved in SheepNet to determine reproductive rates, pregnancy success and lamb mortality. The systems were classified according to the environmental conditions (mountain areas, lowlands, etc.), productive aptitudes (meat, dairy or dual purpose) and how frequently the ewes lamb. In most systems the ewes lambed once annually. However in accelerated reproductive systems ewes lambed either 3 times in 2 years or 5 times in 3 years.

 

 

 

 

Fertility and Prolificacy

In systems that ewes lambed once annually average fertility rates range from 83 to 95%. Consequently there is a significant number of non-productive ewes in the flocks (average 5-17%), which can be as high as 50% in the less efficient flocks e.g. ewe-lambs (lambing as 1 year olds) particularly in meat systems. Therefore in accelerated systems average fertility rates per lambing ranges from 59 to 77%.

 

Oestrous synchronization and artificial insemination is mainly implemented in dairy systems of France, Spain, and Italy, yielding average fertility values around 50% (ranging from 15 to 82%).

 

Regarding prolificacy (litter size), average values ranged from 1.2 to 1.7 lambs born per ewe lambing. Prolificacy tended to be higher in lowlands systems (1.47) compared to systems in mountain areas (1.31). Despite the higher complexity of the management for accelerated reproductive strategies, the average prolificacy (1.48) did not differ much from that obtained in the systems in which ewes lambed once per annum (1.40).

 

Pregnancy success

In general there is a lack of data on the incidence of abortion on commercial farms. Data on abortion were only provided for 7 of the farming systems. The incidence of abortion ranged from 1 to 5%, although in some farms it was assessed to be over 12%. Considering that scanning (ultrasound echography) seems to be implemented only in certain systems, there is concern about the consistency and reliability of some existing data.

 

Lamb mortality

Stillbirth or perinatal mortality ranges from 2 to 13.5% but is not usually recorded in many systems of sheep production. Therefore, information about mortality is probably underestimated for many systems.

Most systems determine lamb mortality from birth to weaning and average values range from 2 to 18%. Lamb mortality tends to be higher during winter, as well as towards the end of the lambing season.

 

Productivity

The average number of lambs reared per ewe joined range from 1 to 1.5 in most of the systems assessed, even for accelerated reproductive systems. Productivity yields are slightly higher for lowlands systems (1.26 lambs reared/ewe joined) than mountains (1.08) systems. An example of a prolific system is the Assaf breed (prolific) in Spain which is permanently indoors in an accelerated reproductive system rear up to 2.5 lambs per ewe joined.

 

The data presented is this paper clearly illustrates that there are significant opportunities to improve ewe productivity in most systems by improving reproduction success and lamb survivability thus improving farm profitability. SheepNet is promoting the exchange of existing scientific and practical knowledge, innovative technologies and best practices among farmers, advisors, consultants, researchers and other stakeholders.

 

SheepNet is open to all EU countries, stakeholders, sheep producers.

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