Can edible shelter and reducing ewe heat stress help lambs?

Sheep Central, September 8, 2021

INCREASING lamb marking rates and reducing mortality will be the major focus of new large-scale research projects announced by Meat & Livestock Australia.

Through the Sheep Reproduction Strategic Partnership, the projects will investigate the impact of heat stress on ewes and whether edible shelter can improve lamb survival.

MLA has partnered with the University of Western Australia and Murdoch University to develop and deliver collaborative research, development and adoption initiatives covering key sheep industry priorities. Collaborations with CSIRO, University of Sydney, and NSW Department of Primary Industries will ensure a multidisciplinary and national approach, MLA said.

MLA general manager for research, development and adoption, Michael Crowley, said the industry led initiative began from extensive consultation with regional communities.

“Improving reproductive performance has consistently been ranked the highest priority by our sheep producers and advisory committees and that’s why we’re directing research to find practical solutions that producers can implement on-farm.

“The projects have a huge opportunity for growth, with the outcomes of the research not only having the potential to increase productivity and profitability but enable producers to improve animal welfare through innovative practices,” Mr Crowley said.

MLA program manager for sheep and goat productivity, Joe Gebbels, said the objective of the project ‘Investigating heat stress in ewes – reproductive performance’ was to quantify the effect of heat events on sheep reproduction, behaviour, nutrition, and wellbeing over three seasons in a range of climatic conditions.

“With the use of intra-ruminal loggers, we can collect data on individual animal behaviour, interaction with the environment, water intake, and core body temperature every five minutes without handling the animals,” he said.

“By the end of this project we aim to have quantified the effects of heat stress on ewe reproduction and ultimately use these data to increase marking rates through the adoption of practical on-farm solutions.”

Mr Gebbels said the ‘Design, establishment and benefits of edible shelter to improve lamb survival and whole-farm profitability’ project would investigate the impacts of different types and designs of edible shelter on the physiology, behaviour, welfare, and survival of ewes and lambs along with the nutritional benefits of the feed base in mixed farming enterprises.

“This project will examine the use of shrubs and vegetative crops to provide shelter to improve lamb survival, minimise heat stress, fill feed deficits and maximise land use to improve the productivity and profitability of sheep producers,” he said.

The project will also explore the opportunity to utilise shrubs with improved feeding value to attract ewes to shelter, using the new Anameka TM saltbush variety.

“We aim to engage more than 2000 producers during the life of this project with the aim to fast-track adoption by enabling producers to implement the proven practical solutions found at every stage of the research.”

Updates on the program will be disseminated on the MLA program website, through webinars and workshops and engagement in industry forums.

Outcomes will be integrated in producer resources, demonstration sites, peer learning groups and training packages delivered through the Sheep Reproduction Strategic Partnership.

For more information, visit the program website here.

Do you have anything to say about this?

Sheep Central readers would appreciate other producers sharing in the comment section below their experiences with edible shelter, their strategies to minimise heat stress and how either strategy might have affected ewe or lamb survival on their farm.


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