Although mountain sheep systems suffer from climatic and environmental handicaps that constrain productivity and economic viability, they have an important economic role, maintain habitats and species of high nature conservation value and support the provision of a range of ecosystem services of benefit to society. Using Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) in extensive mountain sheep systems could bring benefits for animal performance, economical performance and labour. This paper presents results from a 3 year experiment where PLF principles were implemented on an extensive mountain sheep farm and an assessment made of whether or not such an approach could benefit more marginal sheep systems. A 900 ewe flock (600 Scottish Blackface ewes, 300 Lleyn ewes) was divided equally into two separate systems, one where the flock was managed conventionally (CON) at group level, and the other where the individuals in the flock were subjected to a PLF management protocol where electronic weighing, recording and drafting equipment were used, linked to the electronic identification (EID) tags of the animals. Two main management strategies were compared and contrasted; one relating to winter feeding of the pregnant ewes, the other relating to anthelmintic treatment of lambs during the summer. Yearly labour profiles were created by measuring the time spent doing individual tasks associated with the two management systems. Net margins (£/ewe) were calculated for the two systems. Additionally, the yearly labour profiles were scaled-up using commercial data to quantify potential labour savings on more traditionally managed mountain farms if PLF principles were adopted. Analyses indicated that the two different management systems did not result in any significant difference in terms of ewe weights, mid-pregnancy scanning figures, ewe and lamb mortality rates, or lamb weight post-weaning. However, the proportion of lambs needing anthelmintic treatment was significantly reduced by 40% between the CON and the PLF, resulting in a reduction of 46% in the amount of anthelmintic used. Over a whole year, the total amount of labour required in the PLF management system was reduced by 36%. Across the 3 years, the net margin for the two systems showed an average difference of £3/ewe higher in the PLF. For a more traditional farm embracing a PLF approach, analyses suggested labour reduction of 19%, equating to £1.60/ewe savings. This study shows that it is beneficial for farmers to consider managing a mountain ewe flock at an individual rather than at flock or batch level using PLF technology.
- Precision livestock farming
- Targeted selective treatment