Press release 4 - Sheepnet visits Australia to exchange knowledge and experiences

Sheepnet visits Australia to exchange knowledge and experiences

 

Dr Tim Keady

Animal & Grassland Research & Innovation Centre,

Mellows Campus, Teagasc, Athenry, Co. Galway.

 

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. Ewe productivity (number of lambs reared per ewe joined), which has been static for the past few decades. Recently SheepNet National Facilitators visited Australia with the aim of exchanging knowledge and experiences on how to improve ewe productivity.

 

Australia is the world’s largest sheep meat exporter, its main markets been USA, China, United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Sheep numbers have declined from 170 million sheep in 1990 to 68 million sheep today, of which 37 million are breeding ewes. The average number of lambs reared per ewe joined is 0.95 and has increased by 10% over the last 10 years.

 

There is great optimism as producers are receiving approximately €4/kg for lamb carcass plus a payment for the skin. Wool price has increased by 35% in the past year. Merino wool is achieving €10.90/kg.

 

The SheepNet team visited a number of farms and noted that flocks are large  (mean flock size is 1390 ewes), lamb outdoors and have limited labour availability, in many cases the farmer and one other. There is keen interest in knowledge exchange and producers pay to attend knowledge exchange programmes.

 

SheepNet will hold its next transnational workshop in Spain next June. Stakeholders who are interested in participating can register on line on the SheepNet website.

 

                  

Ewe productivity (number of lambs reared per ewe joined), which has been static for the past few decades, is a combination of reproduction success, embryonic and lamb survival and litter size. 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.

 

Recently SheepNet National Facilitators visited Australia with the aim of exchanging knowledge and experiences on how to improve ewe productivity.

 

Australian sheep industry

Australia is the world’s largest sheep meat exporter and exports 57% and 92% of its lamb and mutton production, respectively. The value of the sheep meat industry is approximately €3.3 billion and is increasing annually. The USA, China, United Arab Emirates and Qatar are the main markets for Australian lamb accounting for 22, 16, 9 and 7% of lamb carcass exports, respectively. Australia is the world’s third largest exporter of live sheep the main markets being Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Oman.

 

The number of sheep has declined from 170 million sheep in 1990 to 68 million sheep, of which 37 million are breeding ewes; about 75% of these are Merino. The average number of lambs reared per ewe joined is 0.95 and has increased by 10% over the last 10 years. Since 1990 the volume of wool produced has declined by 60%. Thus, the Australian sheep industry has changed focus, changing from being predominantly wool orientated to a combination of meat and wool.

 

Farm quality assurance is seen as essential in gaining and maintaining market access. Once a market is accessed then it’s up to the marketer’s to do their job and increase Australia’s share of the market.

 

Wool production is an important commodity in the Australian sheep industry. The value of the wool industry is approximately €2 billion. The price that producers receive for wool increased by 35% in the last year.

 

Farm gate prices

Australian sheep producers are in a good space at the moment considering the prices that they are receiving for their produce. During the visit producers were receiving €4/kg for carcass plus a payment for the skin (€8.30 and €3.20 for Merino and crossbred lambs, respectively). The optimum lamb carcass weight is between 25 and 27 kg but farmers are not discounted for carcasses between 18 and 32 kg.

 

Wool price has increased by 35% in the past year. Currently Merino wool, because of its fine fibre, is achieving €10.9/kg and a Merino ewe will produce up to 7 kg of wool.

 

Farm visits

The SheepNet team visited a number of farms during their visit. A summary of the farms visited is as follows:

  1. Great optimism in the sheep sector due to the current high wool and meat price. Farmers also receive a payment for the hide of all animals slaughtered
  2. Large flocks (mean flock size in Australia is 1390 ewes) which lamb outdoors. Some large feedlots – the group visited a feedlot which finished 70,000 lambs, annually.
  3. Limited labour, in many cases the farmers and one other. Shearing, fencing and other farm task are contracted out.
  4. A key interest in knowledge exchange. Many producers are prepared to pay to attend knowledge exchange programmes aimed at increasing ewe lifetime performance focusing on issues including body condition score, nutrition and pasture management. The cost is €1350 per participant. On completion of the course each participant receives €770 from the Australian Wool Innovation and Meat and Livestock Australia levy bodies.

 

SheepNet will 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 next transnational workshop in Spain next June. Stakeholders who are interested in participating can register on line on the SheepNet website.

 

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

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