Project code: S-05-02

Team and Leader Alistair Carson

Organisations Involved Alistair Carson and Lynn Dawson, ARINI.

Background and Summary

Reducing the labour requirements of sheep production systems is a key issue for the Northern Ireland sheep industry. Survey data indicates that 4 to 8 hours per ewe are required for lowland sheep production systems involving intensive shepherding indoor lambing systems. 

A large-scale on-farm study funded by Agrisearch and DARD has shown the potential for controlled grass-based lambing systems to reduce feed costs and the labour requirement of sheep systems without having detrimental effects on lamb output. This study has also shown that flock genetics has a major effect on lamb output in both indoor and outdoor lambing systems.

Over the last 12-months research has been developing in a number of key areas to develop grass-based lambing systems to their full potential. At ARINI, research is being undertaken to identify optimum grazing and concentrate feed strategies in late pregnancy for grass- based systems. The effect of additional shelter provision on lamb survival and growth rates in grass-based lambing systems is also currently being investigated. This on-farm research programme funded by DARD and Agrisearch is investigating alternative options for shelter provision and examining their effects on lamb survival and subsequent growth and development. Initial observations that both design and location of shelter are important factors in shelter use by sheep. Ewes and their lambs spent a significant amount of time in the shelters, despite the favourable weather conditions which were present, with an X-shaped polymesh shelter with a roof being preferred. However, shelter use by the ewes prior to and during lambing was low. More work is required to understand birth site selection by ewes to enable suitable shelters to be designed for lambing down in.

This Agrisearch programme has been instrumental in demonstrating the potential for grass-based easy-care lambing systems for the industry. This proposal aims to build on the development work which has been undertaken to provide management systems for the Northern Ireland sheep industry which minimise the intervention required at lambing whilst maximising lamb survival and growth rates.

The objectives of this proposal are:

1. Investigate factors influencing birth site selection by ewes and design low cost shelter provisions/management systems for ewes to lamb down in a site sheltered from cold exposure.

2. Investigate ewe and ram genetics and mid and late pregnancy feeding regimes to minimise the level of intervention required at lambing in grass-based systems.


This project has been extended and results will be made available in Spring 2007