Evidence-based farm decisions for lamb production
Most producers aim to continually improve their farming systems. However their decisions are often made on the basis of single, easily available parameters, such as scanning percentage (proportion of sheep pregnant after breeding), with no real reference to overall flock performance.
On farms, flock performance is about a combination of factors – both at flock and individual animal level – encompassing a whole range of decisions on management and husbandry. Most of these factors are connected and these connections need to be accounted for in decision making. Ignoring them can lead to inefficient allocation of time, effort and investment, and a focus on parameters that are unlikely to significantly improve returns.
Informing and supporting lamb producers
Until now, there’s been a lack of robust data on management or husbandry interventions and their combined impact on flock performance. As a result, there are very few evidence-based decision-support tools available to lamb producers, consultants or vets. While abattoir data is the richest available, it’s not used routinely to analyse production at the whole farm level.
There is increasing evidence in veterinary epidemiology that understanding farmers’ attitudes and perceptions of management and production can significantly influence decision-making and adoption of best practice.
Within the Ruminant Population Health Research Group, we’re working to enable producers to make more effective decisions by creating an evidence-based, holistic model of factors they can control which effectively influence flock performance. We’re doing this by using two rich, complementary agri-informatics data sets.
Building a fuller picture of flock performance
We’re collecting a detailed, longitudinal (18 month) data set, funded through an Innovate UK grant (with individual ewe and lamb EID [electronic identification records]).
Encompassing around 800 flocks, it will include:
- lamb slaughter data
- classification and rejection reports
- in-depth electronic monitoring of key health, production and management parameters
- a large-scale survey of production system characteristics, management practices, farmer attitudes and flock health and fertility status