Press release 13 - Sheepnet visits Ireland to gain knowledge and experiences

Sheepnet visits Ireland to gain knowledge and experiences

 

Drs. Tim Keady and Alan Bohan

Animal & Grassland Research & Innovation Centre,

Mellows Campus, Teagasc, Athenry, Co. Galway.

 

Summary

The EU is the second largest importer of sheep meat in the world. An increase in ewe productivity of 0.1 lambs reared per ewe joined across the EU would increase meat supply by 64 thousand tonnes and self-sufficiency to 92%.

 

SheepNet is a 3-year project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme to improve the productivity of meat sheep (the number of lambs reared per ewe joined) and milk sheep (the number of milking ewes per ewe joined). SheepNet has brought together a wide range of stakeholders from the six main sheep producing countries in Europe (Ireland, France, Italy, Romania, Spain and UK) and Turkey.

 

SheepNet visits Ireland

Recently SheepNet held its fifth Transnational Conference in Ireland with the focus being prime lamb production for grazed grass. The first stop on the tour was a visit to Kepak meat processing plant. All delegates were given the opportunity to ‘walk the line’ from when the animals EID tags are recorded, through the processing line to packaging and labelling of the different cuts of meat.

 

The second visit was to John Curley’s farm in Co Roscommon. John focuses on high productivity and grassland management. John uses Belclare-X ewes and last year his flock weaned 1.85 lambs per ewe joined and had 95% of the lambs drafted (without concentrate supplementation) prior to mid-October. Lambs for slaughter are sold through the QUALTEX scheme.   

 

The third visit was to the farm of Richard and Ken Mathews in Offaly. Last year their ewe flock weaned 2.2 lambs per ewe joined. The Mathew’s also use predominantly Belclare-X ewes which are turned out to pasture with a maximum of two lambs. The extra lambs are reared in an artificial rearing unit. By mid-October 90% of the lambs are drafted from forage only. All lambs are marketed through the Offaly lamb producer group.

 

 

Finally the delegates visited Athenry Research Centre, the primary centre for sheep production research in Ireland. During the visit the following topics were presented:

 

1.         ewe life-time performance

2.         effect of age at first joining on performance

3.         effect of genotype on performance

4.         mineral supplementation

5.         animal behaviour and lamb mortality

6.         grassland management and incorporation of white clover, plantain and chicory

7.         evaluation of sheep breeding indexes

 

SheepNet continues to establish durable exchange of existing scientific and practical knowledge, innovative technologies and best practices which improve sheep productivity among farmers, advisors, consultants, researchers and other stakeholders.

 

SheepNet will hold its final seminar in France on September 2nd to 5th 2019. Stakeholders who are interested in participating can register on line on the SheepNet website.

 

                  

 

The EU is the second largest importer of sheep meat in the world. An increase in ewe productivity of 0.1 lambs reared per ewe joined across the EU would increase meat supply by 64 thousand tonnes and self-sufficiency to 92%. It is estimated that the EU sheep population has declined by 15% in the last 15 years.

 

SheepNet is a 3-year project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. SheepNet is about practice-driven innovation to improve the productivity of meat sheep (the number of lambs reared per ewe joined) and milk sheep (the number of milking ewes per ewe joined) which will improve farmers’ income. SheepNet is an innovative thematic network which has brought together a wide range of stakeholders from the six main sheep producing countries in Europe (Ireland, France, Italy, Romania, Spain and UK) which account for approximately 80% of the EU sheep flocks, and from Turkey.

 

How does SheepNet work?

SheepNet uses a multi-actor approach that engages farmers, farmer organisations, scientists, advisors/consultants, veterinarians etc. involved in the value chain encompassing the sheep industry. Using a top-down: bottom-up approach SheepNet aims to promote the dissemination and implementation of innovative technologies and practices that impact ewe productivity.

 

 

SheepNet visits Ireland

Recently SheepNet held its fifth Transnational Conference in Ireland which focused on prime lamb production for grazed grass. There were delegates from 9 countries which brought a vast range of experiences and knowledge to the SheepNet conference. The conference also included visits to a meat processing plant, two sheep farms with high productivity and the Teagasc Sheep Research Centre at Athenry

 

Visits

Kepak Sheep processing plant, Athleague was the first visit. During the visit all delegates were given the opportunity to ‘walk the line’. They experienced how sheep are processed in Ireland, from when the EID tags are recorded, through the processing line, carcass grading, cutting of the carcasses to packaging and labelling of the different cuts of meat for the different supermarket customers

 

The second visit was to John Curley’s farm in Co Roscommon. John focuses on high productivity and grassland management. The delegates were impressed with what is achievable from a commercial grass based system of prime lamb production. John uses Belclare-X ewes because of their prolificacy, docility, mothering ability and carcass characteristics. Last year John’s flock weaned 1.85 lambs per ewe joined and had 95% of the lambs drafted (without concentrate supplementation) prior to mid-October. Lambs for slaughter are sold to Kepak through the QUALTEX scheme which provides a bonus for E and U grade carcasses. Lambs remaining after mid-October recieveconcentrate supplementation until drafting.    

 

The third visit was to the farm of Richard and Ken Mathews in Offaly. Richard and Ken also focus on high ewe productivity. Last year their ewe flock weaned 2.2 lambs per ewe joined. The Mathew’s also use predominantly Belclare-X ewes. Ewes are only turned out to pasture with a maximum of two lambs. The extra lambs are reared in an artificial rearing unit. Forage rape is grown on the farm as a winter feed for the ewes while typhon is grown for lambs post weaning. By mid-October 90% of the lambs are drafted from forage only. All lambs are marketed through the Offaly lamb producer group which markets 30,000 lambs annually and Ken has been an active member since its formation.

 

 

Finally the delegates visited the Athenry Research Centre which is the primary centre for sheep production research in Ireland. The following are the main take home messages from the visit:

 

  1. Data from current studies were presented, clearly demonstrating the effects of ewe genotype on life time performance. Results showed that lamb carcass value can differ by approximately €5,700 per 100 ewes joined due to genotype.
  2. Results presented showed the cost of replacements and how these costs can be reduced by lambing at 1 year of age. Also lambing at 1 year did not affect performance when lambing as 2 tooths.
  3. Sheep producers spend approximately €3 million on mineral supplements annually yet only 35% base their decision on evidence i.e. lab analysis or veterinary advice. Herbage on 73% of Irish sheep farms is deficient in cobalt. Results from supplementation studies showed positive responses in lamb growth rate to cobalt supplementation post weaning. However supplementing ewes pre joining and during early and mid-pregnancy had no effect on ewe performance.   
  4. Lamb mortality is a major financial loss. Seventy two percent of neonatal mortality has occurred at 24 hours after birth. The 2 main causes of lamb mortality, namely infection and dystocia, are potentially preventable. Key farm management practices were discussed.
  5. Data on the effects of stocking rate and incorporation of white clover, plantain and chicory were discussed.
  6. A study is currently on-going which is evaluating New Zealand sheep and comparing them to Irish sheep from the top and bottom of the Replacement Sheep Index 

 

SheepNet continues to establish durable exchange of existing scientific and practical knowledge, innovative technologies and best practices which improve sheep productivity among farmers, advisors, consultants, researchers and other stakeholders.

 

SheepNet will hold its final seminar in France on September 2nd to 5th 2019. Stakeholders who are interested in participating can register on line on the SheepNet website. SheepNet is open to all EU countries, stakeholders and sheep producers.

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