Body condition score. Communication methods
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) has been static for the past few decades. The overall aim of SheepNet is to share knowledge to improve flock productivity across Europe and body condition score has been shown to have a significant effect on flock performance.
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) has not improved in Ireland over the past few decades. The overall aim of SheepNet is to share knowledge between stakeholders to improve flock productivity across Europe. One factor that has been shown to have a significant effect on ewe productivity and the subsequent performance of her lambs is ewe body condition score (BCS). Body condition score is an important management point for sheep flocks across Europe regardless of production system. Body condition score is a measure of the body reserve status of the ewe. It is assessed on a five point scale, 1 being the thinnest and 5 being the fattest. Measuring BCS is done by hand, does not require any equipment, is easy to learn and overcomes differences in ewe weight due to age, breed or pregnancy status.
Having the flock at the correct BCS pre mating (3.5 to 4.0 in meat sheep, 3.00-3.50 in dairy sheep) will increase the number of lambs reared per ewe joined through increased prolificacy and reduced barren rates. In meat sheep, increasing BCS by one unit at joining (within a range of 2.5 to 4) will increase litter size by 0.13 lambs per ewe and the number of lambs reared per ewe joined by 0.10. In dairy sheep, increasing BCS by one unit at mating (within a range of 2.5 to 4) will increase litter size by 0.20 lambs per ewe and the number of lambs reared per ewe joined by 0.15 while also increasing milk yield by 12 kg per lactation in adult ewes.
The main aim of SheepNet is to share knowledge therefore effective communication between stakeholders in the EU and Turkey is of vital importance. As part of a recent transnational workshop in Sardinia each SheepNet country presented a successful communication method used in their respective countries to disseminate the benefits and methods of using BCS as a management tool.
Farming press is one of the main sources used by stakeholders to obtain up to date technical knowledge. The use of press articles enables the information to be targeted at specific times of year when it is most relevant to stakeholders. Press articles are also less formal than research or technical reports allowing for pictures and diagrams to help communicate the message. Farming press such as the Irish Farmers Journal, Farming Independent, Farmers Weekly and the Scottish Farmer provide both newspaper/magazine and online platforms to communicate the importance of BCS with stakeholders. The online platforms provide the benefit of video demonstrations and interviews on the topic.
Articles in technical/professional journals are also used to disseminate the benefits of BCS through regional and national press and free access online articles. These articles allow targeted advice suitable to that time of year/stage of the production cycle. They aim to provide general information and technical advice on BCS while being easily understandable. Articles provide learning tools for consultants/advisors to facilitate training of farmers and are published up to 4 times per year.
Discussion groups are the number one source used by Irish farmers to obtain information. Discussion groups provide a means for farmers to get advice and practical demonstrations on BCS. Discussion groups also enable farmers to discuss opinions and ideas with their peers. Seminars/workshops and training days are also widely used to communicate the importance of BCS management. These workshops are designed to provide specific training on BCS management and also provide an overview of the main challenges to managing BCS at each step of the production cycle and also to enable advisors/farmers to calibrate and validate their own methods. Depending on the workshop in question, the aim may be to teach advisors or to teach farmers directly. The workshops allow researchers and advisors to communicate directly with farmers enabling two way communications.
Summary files, wall charts and booklets are widely used by all SheepNet countries and provide an in-depth description of the benefits and methods of good BCS management. Summary files are provided at public events and are also available online. They aim to provide easy reading with photos/diagrams to outline the main milestones in BCS management and also provide technical references for further reading. Free access slides provide a free online learning tool for advisors, technicians and farmers by providing information on the benefits and methods of BCS, using pictures and diagrams to better communicate the message. A BCS time line, available both online and in hardcopy wall chart, enables farmers to manage ewe BCS across the 12 months of the year. This method provides farmers with advice for the particular time of year and the online version allows for supplementary videos to be added.
In summary there are many methods of communication used to communicate the benefits of good body condition management and each have their unique benefits depending on the region and type of message being communicated.
SheepNet will hold its final seminar in France on September 2nd to 5th 2019. Stakeholders who are interested in participating can register on line on the SheepNet website. SheepNet is open to all EU countries, stakeholders, sheep producers. For further information: http://www.sheepnet.network