22 Aug 2018
Improving animal performance and reducing physical losses is key to ensuring sheep farming is profitable. Recent data from a project in Dorset suggest losses ranging from 4% to 21% between scanning the ewes and the sale of their lambs. Generally, most occur during pregnancy or in the first week of life. Producers are often surprised to find out just how many lambs they do lose. This is partly because many are not visualised as dead animals, as they either die inside the ewe or are aborted as foetuses.
Infectious abortions continue to account for a significant percentage of losses on lowland farms. Weather is also a significant factor as it will impact on ewe condition leading up to lambing and affecting lambs at birth.
Reducing lamb losses has to take various factors into account, including the sheep farming system, ewe body condition, nutrition, health planning – including vaccination – and management. The target should be to optimise scanning percentage, ie the number of embryos created and to minimise lamb losses to the point of sale.
The first step is to look at and analyse farm records to understand what is happening now. Comparing scanning, lambing and rearing percentages between years and with national benchmarks, will highlight where problems occur
and indicate where action is needed.