New programme could see Europe become 100pc self-sufficient in sheepmeat

Photo Brian Farrell
Photo Brian Farrell
Catherine Hurley

Catherine Hurley

Increasing ewe productivity by 0.1 lambs across the EU by utilising knowledge and technology currently available could see Europe become almost 100pc self-sufficient in sheep meat, according to Teagasc Research Officer, Tim Keady.

By grouping information from research carried out under SheepNet, a three-year project started in November 2016 focused on factors effecting ewe productivity, it is possibility ewe productivity could be increased by 0.3 lambs per ewe according to the Athenry-based Officer.

The practice-driven innovation aims to improve the productivity of meat sheep (the number of lambs reared per ewe joined) and milk sheep (the number of milking ewes per ewes joined, according to Tim. By doing this, three key factors were addressed including pregnancy rate, pregnancy success and improved lamb survivability he explained.

After gathering the data researched to date from the six main sheep producing countries in Europe, Ireland, France, Italy, Romania, Spain and the UK, which account for 80pc of Europes sheep flocks as well as Turkey, Tim based his shared paper with Teagasc Walsh Fellow Alan Bohan on a ‘taste’ of the information compiled by SheepNet.

Some common challenges found across the board in light on ewe productivity included; the need to address body condition score, feeding according to expected litter size, dealing with the effects of grass silage feed value on concentrate requirements during late pregnancy, and choosing an effective option to artificially rearing surplus lambs, according to Tim.

One area in particular that he said should be addressed to improve ewe productivity was neonatal lamb mortality. He said that the main causes of lamb mortality according to the research were infection and dystocia- poor nutrition, which he said is largely preventable. He added 23pc of farmers don’t clean and disinfect lambing pens, adding to the problem.

“Some 52pc of neonatal mortality occurs prior to and/or at birth. In other words half of your lambs in lamb mortality are dead before they hit the ground,” he explained, adding it was based on PhD student Dwayne Shiels research. “It indicates a lot of this lamb mortality is potentially preventable,” he said.

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