The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire)

Focus on lamb feed intake and efficiency stats

SRUC’s Professor Davy McCracken offers an insight into work at the college’s hill and mountain research centre


In hill sheep systems, generally the weight of the animal is the biggest driver of value.

And research has been very effective at identifyin­g ways to improve economic returns for producers.

For example, supplement­ary feed is often provided to maximise growth rates and carcass quality of finished lambs.

But feed and forage can account for as much as 60% of variable costs across UK sheep production systems.

And so net income can also be increased at an individual farm or croft level by either reducing the amount of feed required to maintain livestock productivi­ty or increasing livestock productivi­ty from the same amount of feed provided.

Therefore, the ability to identify animals that are more efficient in converting feed into weight gain will be an important component of livestock breeding strategies in the future.

However, while there is a growing amount of informatio­n on cattle feed efficiency, relatively little is known currently about sheep.

The male Scottish Blackface and Welsh Lleyn lambs from within our Kirkton flock are housed and finished for slaughter at the end of each breeding season.

The growth and performanc­e of these lambs are regularly recorded from birth through to housing.

And when we take groups of finished lambs for slaughter we ensure that we can match up the carcass quality informatio­n to individual lambs.

But because the lambs are all housed together in an ad-lib feed finishing system, to date it has been impossible to know how much any individual lamb has been eating before reaching its finishing weight.

To help address this gap in understand­ing, we have used funding from CIEL (the Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock) to establish a sheep feedintake recording system at Kirkton & Auchtertyr­e.

This Norwegian-built equipment consists of a set of individual feed bins which can recognise individual animals based on their Electronic Identifica­tion (EID) tag and thereby record how much feed each animal is taking each time it visits any of the bins.

This equipment will now enable us to look at individual lamb feed intake and efficiency during housing and compare and contrast that with its growth and performanc­e in the build-up to housing.

It will also allow us to investigat­e any difference­s in feed efficiency between the Blackface or Lleyn breeds or between lambs of different genetic potential within each breed.

My team are now crunching the numbers from the winter just passed and I look forward to updating you on their findings.

 ??  ?? RESEARCH: Scottish Blackface and Welsh Lleyn sheep during scanning at Kirkton and Auchtertyr­e
RESEARCH: Scottish Blackface and Welsh Lleyn sheep during scanning at Kirkton and Auchtertyr­e
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