Lamb mortality, primarily in the first 48 hours after birth, is a significant welfare and production issue for the sheep industry.
The average annual mortality rate of adult sheep run on commercial properties is around 4%.
- Reducing lamb and sheep mortality rates is a priority for sheep industry research.
- Unseasonal cold snaps and other extreme weather events are a major contributor to lamb survival rates in Australia
- Another major factor impacting lamb survival is birth weight, which is directly impacted by the nutrition of the mother
- In adult sheep many factors are known to contribute to the risk of death, such as poor nutrition, parasite infection, pregnancy and lambing.
- Welfare indicators and risk for each sheep in the flock can be assessed at key times in the year such as shearing, pregnancy scanning, joining and weaning but there is scope to increase the use of objective information for management decisions at these times.
- Predation can also be an issue in some regions of Australia. Some of these species are responsible for preying on livestock and native wildlife. More information on pests can be found here.
The sheep and lamb industry is investing in research, development and on-going extension projects, to work towards achieving the highest possible lamb and adult sheep survival rate.
This video is an example of producers who have taken lamb survival research on board, and have implemented native shelters to protect their lambs during cold weather.
A new research project was developed in May 2014 to investigate the possibility of lowering adult sheep mortality rates:
- Enhanced sheep wellbeing and productivity
- The project is designed to reduce on-farm mortalities from 4% to 3% in adult animals.
- The aim is to be able to use a wide range of data collected on individual animals to make well informed decisions on management and choices for selection and selling. Information on the genetic background of animals, their production history, current status and the seasonal outlook will be used to determine the best course of action for individual sheep within a flock at each decision point during the year. For example, measurements made at the time of joining will be combined with previous data available from pregnancy scanning, weighing, condition scoring and fleece
- Engagement with RSPCA and with UK welfare specialists will contribute to the design of the project.
Other projects that the industry is investing in include: