A pilot of validation of key efficiency measures and targeted monitoring to optimise sheep nutrition, farm performance and
Project number: 74210
Lead contractor: Nottingham University
Start & end date: 01 January 2013 – 31 December 2013
Actual end date: 30 April 2014
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) highlight the strengths and weaknesses of farming enterprises and can be used to determine overall efficiency. The development of KPIs applicable to the diversity of livestock farm systems in the UK requires targeted monitoring of farm data, but they could be instrumental in farm benchmarking.
Additionally, a better understanding of feed supplementation is required to update nutritional guidelines and condition diagnosis. This will provide farmers and advisers with the knowledge necessary to address nutritional issues in the most cost-effective manner.
- To develop KPIs and monitoring protocols for sheep systems.
- To determine appropriate sample numbers for diagnostic tests.
Three sheep enterprises will be selected and used to derive relevant KPIs and monitoring protocols. Nutrition and performance data will be collected in six farm visits throughout the year at specified stages in the production cycle. Surveying farmers and advisers will investigate advice provision.
The success of the pilot project may determine whether the full project is approved. The full project will fully evaluate KPI performance and initiate benchmarking based on these KPIs. The information generated will be fed into and further developed for knowledge transfer with regular farmer focus groups and literature.
Following the pilot year the overarching message must be that body condition scoring (BCS) is a valuable tool in terms of sheep management and relevant key performance indicators (KPIs). It is easy to learn and highly repeatable and can be used to drive decisions regarding ewe management and has direct effects on productivity.
The Pilot Study highlighted important differences in the nature and extent of data capture from the three participating farms. The data from Didling was more extensive, complete and better presented, and this facilitated a greater depth of analysis. From this analysis, where emphasis was placed on BCS, we were able to begin to identify key stages of the annual production cycle that determined lamb weaning weight. Whilst BCS at lambing and loss of BCS between lambing and 8 weeks were key maternal factors determining lamb weaning weight, BCS at mating and scanning influenced litter size which in turn influenced total weight of weaned lambs. Inevitably, ewes in better BCS at mating carried this through to lambing and beyond. Furthermore, it was evident that weight (and BCS) gain from weaning to mating in the previous production cycle had a carryover effect on weaning weights during the following year. From 8 weeks, the effect of lamb-specific factors (such as sire genotype) became more prominent. Importantly, we could begin to quantify and to put a value to the contribution of each of these factors.
Another feature to emerge from the Pilot Study is the need to develop and refine systems of data capture and processing from the EID system prior to analysis. At present this is laborious and time consuming. This is important so that producers are not dissuaded in future from using EID, the vast quantity of data that it can generate, and the many benefits that the resulting analyses can bring.
Overall BCS at key stages of the annual production cycle appears to be an appropriate KPI predicting weight of weaned lamb.
KPIs emerging from the study which determine weight of weaned lamb are:
- BCS (also weight) at mating, and weight gain from weaning to mating – independently associated with litter size and lamb weight
- BCS at scanning – Associated with litter size at lambing and weaning
- BCS at lambing – Associated with 8 week and lamb weaning weights (both individual weights and combined)
- Loss of BCS from lambing to 8 weeks and/or weaning – Associated with individual and combined weaning weights
However, from 8 weeks, sire genotype and availability of quality grass appear play a more prominent role in determining weaning weights. The robustness of these KPIs and the relative contribution of other factors such as sire genotype require further study and validation across successive seasons
Such cross-season analyses will also help to establish KPIs associated long-term management strategies. For example:
- At weaning – to what extent should ewe nutrition take priority over that of lambs?
More work is required to establish relationships between ewe weight and BCS that:
- Recognises the effect of ewe age and differences between genotypes – relates to breed specific differences in fat distribution within the body, and changes in body composition with maturity
- Provides BCS and weight targets for different breeds at different stages
The major message to industry in terms of nutritional monitoring is the recommendation of sample numbers for diagnostic purposes – four per management group/animal type are needed, i.e. ewes and lambs on the same pasture would count as two groups. The analysis should not be limited to a single management group, which means to get a good picture‘ of the farm a relatively large number of samples will be required but these should be used along with other indicators (forage/grass mineral analysis) to manage mineral imbalance risks.
Completing this process will require further time and analysis, which is beyond the scope of the current study. It will also need to be extended to the other participating farms to a greater extent than was possible in the pilot study. Furthermore, it will require data pooled from successive seasons in order to establish robust and industry-wide messages. The available data and analysis from the other two participating farms, however, broadly support these initial findings. Here also the importance of pooling data over successive seasons is emphasised.