Over recent decades our industry has been led into a situation where many of our breeds are now heavily dependent on human intervention, particularly at lambing time but also at many other times during the sheep calendar to ensure their survival and production at suitable levels, a management philosophy unsustainable in the future.
The ‘easy care philosophy’ is now widely accepted within the industry as the way forward for the sheep farmer (of the future) managing much larger flocks of sheep. I believe that the ability to manage much larger flocks of sheep is an economic certainty if sheep production is going to continue in the future. However, this must be balanced against a requirement to produce what the market demands, in terms of meat yield, meat quality and increasingly, production methods.
On our own farm we have been pursuing this philosophy of sheep being able to look after themselves for the last twenty years. We have always culled ewes which have the tendency to be persistently lame so that now we are in the situation where if a ewe does not recover completely to a single treatment or becomes lame for a second time, she is culled at the earliest opportunity, irrespective of the cause of that lameness. This has almost completely eliminated foot rot from my flock and other causes of lameness are dramatically reduced.
For the last ten years we have been making use of FEC (Faecal Egg count) to both determine if a group of sheep need drenching and to test the efficacy of various drench groups. I have also individually sampled all ram lambs intended for breeding. We have now selected lines of sheep lines of sheep within our two terminal sire breeds which are showing significant resistance to internal parasites. In addition to this for the last five years we have also been selecting rams which show resilience to worm challenges by maintaining fast growth rates and reduced levels of dagginess.
Scrapie is an insidious disease, causing significant welfare problems in some sheep flocks. For the last ten years, even before the inception of the NSP (National Scrapie Plan) we have been testing all our stock rams for genetic resistance to Scrapie. Our flock could now be described as totally resistant, since all our females are either type 1 or type 2 for scrapie resistance and for the last six years we have only used type 1 rams.