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Exploring the impact of micro-climate on sheep reproductive performance

Decreased lamb mortality and increased marking rates will be the major focus of new large-scale research projects announced by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA).

Through the Sheep Reproduction Strategic Partnership (SRSP), which seeks to develop and deliver collaborative RD&A initiatives covering key sheep industry priorities, MLA has partnered with the University of Western Australia (UWA) and Murdoch University to investigate the impact of heat stress on ewes and examine whether edible shelter can improve lamb survival. Collaborations with CSIRO, University of Sydney, and NSW Department of Primary Industries will ensure a multidisciplinary and national approach.

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,” Mr Crowley said.

“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.”

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” Mr Gebbels 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,” Mr Gebbels said.

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

“We aim to engage more than 2,000 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.



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