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SheepNet exchange farmers’ tips and tricks to improve sheep productivity

The EU is only 85% self-sufficient in sheep meat and an increase in EU ewe productivity by 0.1 lambs reared per ewe joined would increase self-sufficiency to 92%. Farmers in the EU have tips and tricks for tackling many issues which negatively impact sheep productivity. SheepNet, an EU funded project involving the 6 main EU sheep producing countries and Turkey, will share these farmers’ tips and tricks by establishing durable exchange between scientists and stakeholders across the EU.

The EU is only 85% self-sufficient in sheep meat and an increase in EU ewe productivity by 0.1 lambs reared per ewe joined would increase self-sufficiency to 92%.

SheepNet is an EU funded project on sheep productivity. Ewe productivity (number of lambs reared per ewe joined) is a combination of reproduction success, embryonic and lamb survival and litter size. SheepNet is designed to stimulate knowledge exchange between research and stakeholders to widely disseminate best practices and innovations, with the objective of increasing ewe productivity. SheepNet involves the 6 main EU sheep producing countries (Ireland, France, United Kingdom, Romania, Spain and Italy) and Turkey. It has also now gained interest from Hungary, Portugal and Germany.

Why is ewe productivity important?

The EU is only 85% self-sufficient in sheep meat and is the largest importer of sheep meat worldwide. An increase in EU ewe productivity by 0.1 lambs reared per ewe joined would increase self-sufficiency in sheep meat to 92%. Ewe productivity is one of the main factors impacting on profitability of prime lamb production.

What has happened in the last 6 months?

Following the success of the second transnational workshop which was held in Romania last November, SheepNet headed south-west to Spain for its third meeting. The workshop was hosted by Neiker, and was attended by over 70 participants representing stakeholders from the 7 SheepNet countries, who were joined by delegations from Hungary, Portugal and Germany. The meeting focused on sharing and exchange of farmers’ tips and tricks to implement solutions to improve sheep productivity by improving fertility rate, pregnancy success, management and animal factors that reduce lamb mortality.  A total of 76 tips and tricks, from all partner countries, plus Hungary and Australia/New Zealand, were presented on 8 posters with QR codes for each tip. The tips and tricks are all available in 6 different languages on the SheepNet website (www.sheepnet.network), and are described using pictures and/or videos. After viewing the tips and tricks, participants from other countries had the opportunity to select and rank the ones that they believed would be relevant to improving sheep productivity in their respective countries. The top 5 tips and tricks were from 1) Ireland: water supply to multiple lambing pens from one source to reduce labour; 2) Turkey: use of electronic ID recording tool to improve productivity; 3) Australia: moving gate to put sheep through the race without stressing them; 4) Ireland: dealing with enlarged teats by taping the normal teat to encourage lambs to suck the large one and 5) France: a barrier to prevent lambs from jumping in the feed trough. The consensus of the meeting was that tips and tricks for solutions to many of the issues/problems influencing sheep productivity are readily transferable from other countries/regions across Europe

As part of the transnational workshop in Spain, delegates visited two sheep farms and Neiker research facilities. The first farm was a mixed farm, with cropping and 900 meat ewes (Raza Navarra) which lambed 3 times every 2 years. The lambs were marketed directly to restaurants and butchers. The second farm had 380 dairy ewes (Latxa Blond Faced) and the milk was used for producing cheese on-farm (PDO Idiazabal). The participants also got a virtual tour of a local initiative for training shepherds (Shepherds school of Arantzazu), and an overview of the sheep meat marketing in Spain. They also had the opportunity to visit the experimental flock of Latxa sheep in Neiker, involved in projects to encourage alternative sustainable agricultural and livestock soil management (Life Regen Farming), and use of rapeseed on farms to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions (Life SeedCapital).

SheepNet establishes 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 Italy (Sardinia) next November. Stakeholders who are interested in participating can register online on the SheepNet website.

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