Press release 17 - SheepNet: a thematic network to improve sheep productivity across EU and Turkey

SheepNet: a thematic network to improve sheep productivity across EU and Turkey

 

Jean-Marc Gautier

Institut de l’Elevage - France.

 

Summary

SheepNet is an EU funded project on sheep productivity and involves the 6 main EU sheep producing countries (Ireland, France, United Kingdom, Romania, Spain and Italy) and Turkey.

 

SheepNet is ending in October 2019. During the past three years, SheepNet has shared knowledge on sheep productivity, thanks to a multi-actor approach. All the work undertaken has been driven by the expressed needs of end-users and are available on the SheepNet website (www.sheepnet.network).

 

SheepNet::
  • involves 7 countries (France, Ireland, Italy, Romania, Spain, Turkey and United Kingdom) representing 80% of the EU sheep farmers
  • held 34 national and 5 EU workshops/conferences.
  • described 19 sheep rearing systems across EU and Turkey
  • collected 461 stakeholder questions/needs to improve sheep productivity and answered them with:
    • 42 solutions and 29 were evaluated on commercial farms
    • 73 Tips and tricks ,
    • 21 Factsheets
    • 3458 Scientific articles analysed
    • 19 New research needs identified

 

 

Sheep farming is present in most EU countries. There are 830 000 farms and 85 million of animals in Europe (source Eurostat – 2013) and  127 000 farms and 31 million of animals in Turkey. However, the EU sheep flock and number of producers have declined sharply in recent years (by 15% and 50% respectively since 2000– source Eurostat), reaching a critical threshold in some regions for the "survival" of the industry. The decline in sheep and producer numbers is due to number of factors but the main reason is the low sheep productivity (number of lambs produced/ewe joined) which has not improved in the last 30 years in many regions.

 

 
Thus the thematic network SheepNet (grant agreement N°727895) was set up to improve sheep productivity (number of lambs reared per ewe joined) across the EU, for increasing the profitability and attractiveness of the sheep sector. Many scientific and practical/innovative solutions already exist at local or national level but they are not widely transferred at the EU level or they need to be adapted to specific livestock farming systems. Therefore, the overall aim of SheepNet was to share knowledge between stakeholders to improve sheep productivity across Europe. SheepNet involved the 6 main EU sheep producing countries (Ireland, France, United Kingdom, Romania, Spain and Italy) and Turkey.
 
SheepNet started in November 2016 and will end this October. The final seminar was held recently in France. SheepNet is based on a multi-actor and transdisciplinary approach involving researchers, farmers and all stakeholders of the sheep sector. During the 3 years of the project, SheepNet has followed a 5 steps program. Each step has been formalised by a transnational workshop in one of the SheepNet partner countries which provided a great opportunity to share knowledge within and between SheepNet countries.
 
Initially an EU survey was undertaken to identify the mains needs/issues of stakeholders to improving sheep productivity (reproduction efficiency, gestation efficiency, reduce lamb mortality). The mains needs identified related to nutrition management, animal health management and lamb vigour and immunity at birth. In parallel, a comparison of EU sheep productivity was completed which showed huge variability amongst countries and systems within countries. Ewe productivity ranged from 0.5 to 2.5 lambs reared per ewe joined, clearly illustrating the scope for improvement by most producers. 
 

The second step has focussed on identifying solutions to address the stakeholder needs. SheepNet identified 42 solutions (best practices). In parallel, scientists undertook a review of the literature related to sheep productivity (reproduction, gestation and lamb survival) and produced three briefing papers (Improving communication and technology transfer; Support network for effective thematic networks; Support innovations and technologies for the sheep sector) with the most relevant up to date scientific knowledge.

 

The third step has focused on how to facilitate the implementation of solutions. 
SheepNet collected and shared 73 tips and tricks, proposed by stakeholders.
 The fourth step identified existing means of communication and transfer of the SheepNet selected solutions. 
The results indicated that a large number of means of communication already exist for awareness and information, 
on methodologies to implement solutions, for demonstration and teaching. 
Stakeholders also proposed new ways for communication such as using computer simulations to illustrate 
an innovative technique;  social networks to share data and knowledge updates and specific training programs at school. 
Nevertheless, the use of all existing means of communication are the basis for an efficient dissemination. 
In parallel, a presentation of existing new technologies to facilitate solution uptake had been undertaken.
 
The final step involved collecting feedback from end-users who tested some SheepNet solutions. 
Globally, all proposed solutions were well appreciated and easy to perform. 
Finally, scientists in collaboration with stakeholders have identified 19 new research areas to address 
unanswered needs identified in Step 1 of the project.
 
In summary SheepNet:
  • involved 7 countries (France, Ireland, Italy, Romania, Spain, Turkey and United Kingdom) representing
     80% of the EU sheep farmers
  • held 34 national and 5 EU workshops.
  • described 19 sheep rearing systems across the EU and Turkey
  • collected 461 stakeholder questions on sheep productivity and addressed these with:
    • 42 solutions,  29 of which were evaluated 
    • 73 ‘tips and tricks’
    • 21 factsheets
    • 3458 scientific articles analysed
    • 19 new research needs identified
All results from SheepNet are available on www.sheepnet.network.
  
EuroSheep is a new thematic network on the sheep sector, which will start in January 2020 
and will follow up the work undertaken by SheepNet. EuroSheep will focus on animal nutrition and health.
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