Project code: S-02-99

Team and Leader  Alistair Carson

Organisations Involved Alistair Carson, (ARINI), Lynne Dawson (ARINI)

Background and Summary

With the sheep industry under sustained financial pressure options to reduce cost in lowland sheep production systems need urgent investigation. Reducing the level of labour input is particularly important as this represents the largest single input associated with sheep production. Outdoor lambing may be an important component of lower labour input systems.

 To address these issues a two year study, part-funded by AgriSearch, is being undertaken on six farms across Northern Ireland examining the relative merits of outdoor versus conventional indoor lambing systems.

Results from the first year of the study indicated that controlled grass-based lambing systems have the potential to greatly reduce the fixed costs and concentrate feed requirements of lowland sheep systems. In terms of performance, lambs born indoors in the first year of the study were 0.3Kg heavier at birth than those born indoors which lead to a slight increase in the incidence of lambing difficulties. However, despite these problems, lamb mortality rates were not affected by moving to outdoor lambing. In the second year of the trial the problem of oversized lambs on the grass-based lambing system has been overcome by reducing grass allowances in late pregnancy and the performance associated with the outdoor systems appears very promising.

There are a number of other areas, which need investigation to develop grass-based lambing to their full potential. At ARINI, research is being undertaken to identify optimum concentrate feed strategies in late pregnancy for grass-based systems. Also of utmost importance is the need for information on the effect of additional shelter provision on lamb survival and growth rates in grass-based lambing systems. Work is required to identify the optimum design and, location within paddocks, of shelter provisions over a range of farm sites. It is proposed to develop the current on-farm research programme to investigate alternative shelter provision options on lamb survival and subsequent growth and development. This study would also provide additional data on the relative merits of grass-based lambing ensuring that the system has been robustly tested over a number of seasons with varying weather conditions.

Timescale To be completed December 2006.


Project News Update

An extension was commissioned on this project in 2004/2005 financial year.

Relevant documents - Booklet 4: Developing low cost 'natural-care' systems of sheep production 

FileDescriptionFile size
Download this file (Book4sheep.pdf)Developing Low Cost Sheep Production SystemDeveloping Low Cost, Natural Care Systems of Sheep Production - S-02-99 293 kB