Team and Leader Alistair Carson

Organisations Involved Alistair Carson, (ARINI), Lynne Dawson (ARINI), Scott Laidlaw (DANI)

Background and Summary

Over the last decade returns from sheep production have fallen by 25% in real terms and this trend is set to continue (MLC, 1997). To remain competitive lower cost systems of production will have to be developed. Reducing the level of labour input will be particularly important as this represents the largest single cost associated with sheep production. 

Survey data from Northern Ireland farms indicate an average level of labour input of 6.6 hrs/ewe/year (DANI, 1997) with current systems of lowland sheep production. It is unlikely that main season lamb production systems requiring this level of labour input will be sustainable.

Outdoor lambing is likely to be an important component of future lower input, easy-care systems. Breed choice is likely to be an important factor in the effectiveness of these grass-based lambing systems. The current ARDC programme now nearing completion, has investigated the effects of the genetics of crossbred ewes and terminal sires on lamb output and carcass quality under conventional lowland systems based on indoor housing. It is proposed to develop this on-farm study further, investigating the performance of the different ewe and ram breeds under both indoor and grass-based lambing systems. This study would enable the relative merits of grass-based feeding regimes to be assessed over a range of environments.

In summary this proposal would provide information in the following areas: 

(a) effect of management system on lamb output, labour input and animal welfare.
(b) effect of ewe and ram breed type on lamb output in indoor and grass-based systems.
(c) longevity in ewe breed types.



This project addresses core issues to reduce the costs of sheep production, which is crucial to maintain the financial viability of sheep farming in Northern Ireland.
An extension was added to this project and results will be made available in Spring 2007