Duration 2 years

Project code: S-12-05

Team and Leader  Alistair Carson, Lynne Dawson (ARINI) and Steven Johnston (CAFRE)

Organisations Involved ARINI and CAFRE

Background and Summary

From an economic and welfare perspective there is a clear need to develop sheep management systems fro the Northern Ireland sheep industry requiring lower levels of intervention at lambing through reductions in the incidence of dystocia in ewes and new born lamb care. 

On recorded lowland flocks across Northern Ireland data indicates that with lambing systems between 20 to 30% of ewes require assistance at lambing and an overall lamb mortality rate of 17% (Dawson and Carson 2002). DARD and AgriSearch funded research has shown that outdoor controlled grass based lambing systems have the potential to reduce concentrate feed costs by up to 80%, labour inputs by 30% and improve lamb birth weights and subsequent live weight gains. In terms of labour input, most of the advantages recorded with grass based lambing have been due to less time with feeding and moving ewes, whilst the incidence of lambing difficulties has been similar to indoor systems. 

To develop from the current ‘easier-care’ systems, exploiting the high nutritive value of grazed grass in late pregnancy, to true ‘easy-care’ systems continued progress needs to be made in the area of feeding, management and breeding.  AgriSearch Project 2005 is making good progress in developing appropriate grazing strategies.  In the area of breeding there is much potential for further progress.

In New Zealand selection for ease of lambing and mothering ability has been central in the development of easy care systems.  In these systems the incidence of dystocia normally runs under 1% (Sargison, 2005).  The selection for easy care traits will be crucial for the Northern Ireland sheep industry.  This proposed study would provide the central focus for the industry to move forward in this area through the following steps:

1.      Evaluate the benefit of recording ease of lambing and lamb viability traits in commercial flocks to:

a.       Select ewes in the flock for easy care lambing system within a flock
b.      Select ewe lamb replacements for the flock

This work will quantify the benefits of recording east care traits, and hereby provide the basis for a wider industry breeding initiative on selecting ewe replacements.

2.      Evaluate the benefits of using maternal ant terminal sires selected for east care characteristics.  This work will be central in steering the purebred sector to easy care selection breeding goals


i)    Organise experimental mating (October 2005 and October 2006)
ii)    Record effects of flock genetics on performance within east care systems (March to July 2006 & 2007)

Final report to be submitted to AgriSearch in December 2007