Needs and solutions to improving sheep productivity 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
SheepNet is an EU funded project aiming to improve sheep productivity, and involves the 6 main EU sheep producing countries (Ireland, France, Italy, Romania, Spain and UK) and Turkey.
An online survey was undertaken within the participant countries to identify the main challenges and needs, and the best management practices, to improve sheep productivity.
As a result, a full set of topics were identified, ranging from nutrition and health related practices, to housing management and advanced preparation for lambing. However, slight differences were observed between countries, between farmers and technicians, and between meat or dairy sheep farmers, regarding the importance of each issue.
To address the needs and challenges identified, SheepNet produced 42 solutions and 73 practical recommendations (tips and tricks) to aid implementation of the solutions. Following the dissemination many of these solutions are been adopted and implemented by farmers to improve productivity on their farm.
SheepNet will hold its final seminar in France in September 2019. Stakeholders who are interested in participating can register online on the SheepNet website (www.sheepnet.network).
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. SheepNet involves the 6 main EU sheep producing countries (Ireland, France, Italy, Romania Spain, United Kingdom) and Turkey.
Main needs to enhance sheep productivity
A survey was undertaken in the 6 main European sheep-producing countries (Ireland, France, United Kingdom, Romania, Spain and Italy) and Turkey. The objective of the survey was to identify the main challenges and needs, and the best management practices, to improve sheep productivity (efficient reproduction and gestation, reduced lamb mortality). Participants were requested to select and rank, in order of importance, up to 5 challenges to improving pregnancy rate (from a list of 16 options) and pregnancy success (13 options), and the main management (11 options) and animal factors (11 options) involved in reducing lamb mortality.
The distribution of respondents to the survey was as follows: France 31%, Italy 17%, Turkey 14%, Ireland 13%, Spain 11%, Romania 8%, and UK 6%.Most of the respondents were farmers. Sixty nine per cent of the farmers were involved in meat sheep systems and 31% in dairy sheep systems.
There were similar challenges to improving sheep productivity identified across Europe but the order of importance differed slightly by region. The main challenges identified to improving fertility rates were nutrition, body condition score and flock heath status. Nutrition, abortion control and prevention, and pregnancy diagnosis were identified as the main needs and challenges for improving pregnancy success. Housing management, advanced preparation for lambing and nutrition of the pregnant ewe were the three most cited factors for reducing lamb mortality. Colostrum quality and quantity, lamb vigour at birth and lamb birth weight were identified as the main animal factors involved in achieving low lamb mortality.
Practical solutions to increase sheep productivity
To cope with the needs and challenges identified within each region and sheep farming system, SheepNet identified 42 solutions and 73 practical recommendations (tips and tricks). These solutions and practical recommendations were collated from the active participation of farmers and stakeholders at national workshops organised in each member country. Collation of the solutions and tips and tricks highlighted that solutions to many problems are readily available in other countries or regions.
The following solutions were particularly valued by the stakeholders: practical guidelines on nutrition and grassland management, technical notes on abortion management, on farm recording of lamb mortality, and practical recommendations on achieving optimum lamb birth weight, a body condition score toolkit, optimum lamb birth weight and minimising lamb mortality.
The following tips and tricks are proving to be very popular with stakeholders. For example, a rising gate in a sheep handling unit that can be risen up and passed back over the sheep, the use of a water pipe to provide a water supply to multiple lambing pens, a moveable feed barrier to prevent lambs from passing through the feed barrier, the use of technology such as EID and smartphones to record data and the use of a simple hock bar in a sheep race to prevent sheep moving backwards.
A detailed and easy to follow description of all solutions, and tips and tricks, translated into the main languages of the participant countries, are available on the SheepNet website (www.sheepnet.network).
SheepNet will hold its final seminar in France in September 2019: stakeholders who are interested in participating can register online on the SheepNet website. SheepNet is open to all EU countries, stakeholders, sheep producers.