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SheepNet and EuroSheep - EU thematic networks to improve sheep profitability


Sheep meat and sheep milk production are very important farm enterprises in Europe. Tim Keady, Teagasc Researcher provides some information on two networks, SheepNet and EuroSheep who use a multi-actor approach, bringing together all stakeholders involved in sheep production.

Main Messages

  • EU     - has more sheep than Australia and New Zealand combined
             - is 85% self sufficient in sheep meat
             - is the second largest importer of sheep meat world wide
  • Major issue is lack of profitability due to issues such as low ewe productivity,
  • Many scientific and practical solutions already at local level but are not widely transferred
  • SheepNet and EuroSheep use the multi-actor approach, bringing together all stakeholders involved in sheep production
  • EuroSheep has just commenced and will focus on two themes
    • flock health
    • flock nutrition and management

Introduction

Sheep meat and sheep milk production are very important farm enterprises in Europe and play a key social, economic and environmental role in many “less favoured areas”. Currently there are 85 million sheep in Europe and 38 million sheep in Turkey. There are more sheep in Europe than in Australia and New Zealand combined. The number of sheep producers in the EU has declined since 2000. Average prolificacy (litter size) in the systems of sheep production in Europe ranges from 1.2 to 1.7 lambs born per ewe lambing and tends to be higher in lowlands systems (1.47) compared to systems in mountain areas (1.31). In some regions (e.g. Ireland) ewe productivity has not improved over the last 30 years. 

The EU is the second largest importer of sheep meat in the world as it is only 85% self-sufficient in sheep meat. The average EU per capita consumption of sheep meat is 2.1kg. There is an opportunity to increase production without having to export excess sheep meat. An increase in ewe productivity of 0.1 lambs reared per ewe joined would be equivalent to 64,000 tonnes of sheep meat, increasing self-sufficiency to 92%. As well as sheep meat production there are a significant number of dairy sheep in Europe producing milk and cheese. Romania has the largest number of dairy sheep in the EU followed by Italy. 

SheepNet

SheepNet was set up to improve sheep productivity (number of lambs reared per ewe joined) across the EU, thus improving the profitability and attractiveness of the sheep sector. SheepNet was a thematic network which used a multi-actor approach that engaged farmers, farmer organisations, scientists, advisors/consultants, veterinarians etc. involved in the value chain. SheepNet involved the 6 main EU sheep producing countries (Ireland, France, United Kingdom, Romania, Spain and Italy) and Turkey.

There are significant opportunities to improve ewe productivity in most systems by improving reproduction success and lamb survivability thus improving farm profitability and increasing the self sufficiency of sheep meat in Europe. Many scientific and practical/innovative solutions already exist at local and national level but they are not widely transferred at the EU level or they need to be adapted to specific livestock farming systems. The overall aim of SheepNet was to share knowledge between stakeholders to improve sheep productivity across Europe to achieve an increase in ewe productivity of 0.1 lambs reared per ewe joined.

Using published data collated globally and practical experience of sheep producers worldwide, SheepNet  addressed stakeholders questions on sheep productivity and produced 42 solutions (many of which were evaluated in on-farm situations), 88 ‘tips and tricks’ to aid solution implementation, improve labour efficiency and farm profitability and 22 fact sheets. Examples of solutions to improve ewe productivity include use of the ‘ram effect’, nutrition management during late pregnancy, colostrum management, recording causes of lamb mortality, information on causes of and control of abortion, artificial rearing, importance of ewe body condition score, sheep shed management, preparation of a lambing inventory, ram management, etc. All of these deliverables are available on the SheepNet platform (www.sheepnet.network) in six languages and includes information on expected costs and benefits, prerequisites, references, and feedback from actual end-users on their farms.

Dissemination was an integral part of SheepNet. SheepNet produced 19 press releases (translated into 6 languages), 150 practice abstracts (in English and the native language of  country of origin), 120 videos including the implementation of solutions on commercial farms, 143 press articles (in the authors native language) and 42 workshops held across the SheepNet countries.

EuroSheep – leads on from SheepNet

EuroSheep is a thematic network, funded by the EU, which will continue the dynamic of knowledge sharing between stakeholders in the European sheep sector which was initiated by SheepNet. The exchanges will focus on 2 main topics: nutrition and flock management, and flock health. Eight countries are involved namely Ireland, UK, Spain, France, Italy, Hungary, Greece and Turkey, and represent 80% of European sheep production.

The objective of EuroSheep is to exchange existing knowledge between stakeholders at all stages of the supply chain in sheep production in the different countries focusing on 2 main themes. The 2 themes are

  1. flock nutrition and management
  2. flock health

These 2 topics were chosen by SheepNet's stakeholders as they are key drivers of flock profitability.

Through a multi-stakeholder approach, EuroSheep aims to bring together all the stakeholders involved in the sheep sector e.g. farmers, advisors, veterinarians, teachers, researchers, processors etc. EuroSheep will articulate national and international workshops to structure and facilitate knowledge exchange both nationally and internationally. Initially EuroSheep will identify the needs of farmers in terms of nutrition and health management of their flocks. Subsequently EuroSheep will collect and create a reservoir of scientific knowledge, technical solutions and tips and tricks that address the needs identified by each country. Many solutions may already exist to specific needs, either in the same region or another country. Each country will then select relevant solutions and information from the EuroSheep Knowledge resevoir that addresses needs identified by their stakeholders, and then evaluate them. As required EuroSheep will adapt relevant solutions to suit local conditions/regions and assess their sustainability (economic, environmental and social). Finally EuroSheep will implement a dissemination plan for the transfer of knowledge and practical solutions to improve flock management, nutrition and health.  Areas lacking in knowledge will be identified to target future research priorities.  EuroSheep will end of June 2023.