SheepNet: ‘Sharing knowledge to improve ewe productivity’

The SheepNet project, which was funded by the European Union’s (EU) Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme, has come to an end.

The three-year project finished last month, October 2019, and the final seminar took place in the Teagasc Mellows Campus in Athenry, Co. Galway, on Friday, October 25.

Speaking to AgriLand, Tim Keady – the national facilitator for the programme in Ireland – said: “Overall, the programme was a success.

The main aim of the project was to increase ewe productivity and to engage with other EU countries about the best practices to achieve this.

“The only issue throughout was the language barrier. However, we overcame this and believe we made good progress in achieving the aims we had previously set out.”

The stated objectives of SheepNet included:

  • Setting up a self-sustainable EU/International Thematic Network on sheep productivity;
  • Stimulating knowledge between researchers and stakeholders;
  • Valuing the input and knowledge of farmers and stakeholders;
  • Demonstrating the best relevant practices and innovations.

Challenges

“The main challenges identified by farmers and representatives from the seven countries to increase ewe productivity centered around how to enhance pregnancy success.

“Ewe productivity in Ireland’s lowland flock is 1.3 lambs reared per ewe joined and has remained static since the 1980s. Therefore, it was critical to find solutions to help improve this statistic,” Tim Keady said.

Listed below are some of the “solutions” that Tim and other stakeholders came up with to improve ewe productivity.

These centered around:

  • Nutrition and grassland management during gestation;
  • Abortion control and prevention;
  • Pregnancy diagnosis (scanning);
  • Mineral nutrition during pregnancy.

Solutions

“A transitional workshop was held in each of the countries involved in the programme. Representatives from each country would put forward issues they required help with regarding ewe productivity,” Tim added.

“The other countries would have come up with solutions to these problems; the top eight were chosen and implemented on the farms.”

Some of the solutions put forward by Ireland included:

  • Use of the ram effect to compact the lambing season;
  • Effect of body condition scoring on ewe productivity;
  • Effect of silage feed value on concentrate requirements during late pregnancy;
  • Nutritional management according to litter size;
  • Artificially rearing lambs.

“Delegates from each of the countries had the option of purchasing these ideas put forward by other countries and bringing them back home. They would discuss them with the farmers involved in the programme and try to implement and evaluate them to see if they were successful.

“Altogether, SheepNet produced 42 solutions and 73 ‘tips and tricks’ to aid the implementation of these solutions – to improve ewe productivity,” Tim Keady said.

EuroSheep

He added: “In January 2020, a new three-year project funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme called EuroSheep is set to be launched.

“The project will focus on improving lamb production – bringing the lamb from birth to slaughter and the ewe lamb from birth to her first lactation.

The programme will focus on improving animal nutrition and health.

“It will involve eight countries, which include: the UK; Ireland; France; Spain; Italy; Turkey; Hungary; and Greece,” Tim concluded.

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