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KTIF Final Report Live Lambs - Improving Lamb Survival and Farm Profitability

A project delivered by SAC Consulting and funded by the Scottish Government Knowledge Transfer Innovation Fund. Project Leaders – Kirsten Williams and Poppy Frater, SAC Consulting.


The aim of our three year project was to identify the main barriers to achieve an increase in the average number of lambs reared per ewe and identify solutions which improve farm profitability and viability, enhance animal welfare and reduce the carbon footprint in sheep enterprises.

To achieve this we monitored seven focus farmers over the three year period (2016-2019), who were chosen over the main sheep areas of Scotland including lowland, upland and hill operations, indoor and outdoor lambing and various geographical challenges. In the original tender, we set out to involve five farms, but added an additional two, one being the SRUC hill and mountain research centre at Crianlarich, the other being a Northern English farm; these were funded through Horizon2020 (SheepNet) and AHDB Beef and Lamb respectively.

The project facilitators worked with the focus farmers and collected sheep production figures to analyse any trends, issues or progress from the project. These were shared with a wider group of forward thinking sheep farmers (42 members) who offered their expertise to the focus farmers. As well as farmers this included invited project partners from industry (MSD Animal Health, East Coast Viners, Rumenco and Norvite). An operational group was set up to oversee the project including, the two facilitators and programme manager from SAC Consulting, SRUC researcher Cathy Dwyer, Veterinary Investigation Officer, Marion MacMillan and a leading sheep farmer, Graham Lofthouse to steer the project management.

The focus farmers, along with the wider group met twice per year, for a total of eight times over the project lifetime, to discuss the findings from the focus farms and exchange knowledge in ways to enhance performance, while ensuring the welfare of the animal was paramount in any decisions made.

Five key areas were highlighted as the basis of our farm management approach:

  1. Condition scoring
  2. Late pregnancy nutrition for ewes
  3. Reducing numbers of lambs lost to abortion
  4. Management at lambing
  5. Recording and identifying causes of lamb deaths

Innovative techniques used throughout the project included novel Australian sheep condition scoring pads to ensure farmers are more consistent in the assessment of ewe condition scoring, use of a colostrometer to understand the effects of ewe condition and nutrition on colostrum quality and quantity. Videos were produced along with numerous recording templates for flock managers, which are all available on our knowledge repository here.

Information is available to view on the Live Lambs website (above) including all meeting minutes, details of the farms/farmers, fact sheets, videos, etc. Much information has been disseminated through articles in the farming press and social media posts. Messages regarding condition scoring, nutrition, lambing management, abortion control and recording have been highlighted through the Scottish Farm Advisory Service at many sheep resilience meetings across the country.

Having a group of focus farmers at the core of the project was highly influential in providing data, stimulating discussion and influencing others on practical measures to increase lamb survival. Practical management measures reported have included nutritional management (Body Condition Score, ultrasound scanning), the right genetics for the system (birth difficulty, lamb vigour, thermoregulation, maternal care) and a suitable birth environment (shelter, hygiene, low stress) as well as colostrum awareness, feeding Digestible Undegradable Protein, recording losses accurately, enhanced lambing hygiene, respecting the lambing site, and weaning lambs at 90 days.

The large attendance at the closing conference at the Roslin Institute Building, Edinburgh was an excellent example of what the project had done over its three year run, bringing farmers, advisers, researchers, vets and the supply trade together to work on practical solutions for farmers to adopt. Although the project is now finished, the lessons learned and key messages will live on with the farmers involved and industry influencers, and materials from Live Lambs will continue to be delivered to sheep farmers in the years to come. Industry networks have been formed and channels of communication such as the WhatsApp group kept open for future use.

To read the full report, click here.

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