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Shade and shelter project

The impact of shade and shelter on sheep reproduction and welfare

Heat stress on ewes and rams can reduce fertility and influence foetal development and lamb survival. Likewise, cold stress will reduce the survival of newly shorn sheep and newborn lambs. Extreme climatic variation (wind, rain and temperature) poses significant stress on extensively-managed sheep. Shade and shelter offer the opportunity to minimise stress to improve the production and welfare of sheep.

Through two new projects, under the Sheep Reproduction Strategic Partnership, MLA alongside The University of Western Australia, Murdoch University and a number of other industry partners will investigate and develop interventions to reduce the impact of climatic variation on sheep enterprises.

Investigating heat stress in ewes

  • This project aims to definitively and more comprehensively quantify the effects of heat events on sheep reproduction, thermoregulatory capacity, behaviour and wellbeing through long term data collection during a range of climatic conditions in diverse production settings. Outcomes of this research may be used to inform management strategies to minimise the impact of heat stress on reproductive performance.

Design, establishment and benefits of edible shelter to improve lamb survival and whole-farm profitability

  • Over 30 research sites, this project will investigate the impacts of different types of edible shelter on the physiology, behaviour, welfare and survival of sheep, along with the nutritional benefits of the feedbase in mixed farming enterprises. This information will provide the basis for recommended shelter design in sheep enterprises.

 

Core activities

Survey

From this survey, a baseline on the current use of shade and shelter will be established, and motivations for adoption identified. The information gathered will be used to structure a research and development project to improve the effectiveness, use, and accessibility of shade and shelter in the Australian sheep industry.

Get involved in the first stage of work by completing this survey:

Shade and Shelter Survey

 

Workshops

Workshops will be conducted in six regions (four in WA and two in NSW). The workshops will provide stakeholders with key messages from a literature review assessing the use and benefits of shelter for grazing sheep, outcomes of the survey, pre-experimental modelling and sensitivity analysis, and a discussion forum around adoption.

 

Experiments

Investigating the impacts of heat stress of ewes on reproductive performance: The aim of this experiment is to quantify the effects of heat events on sheep reproduction, thermoregulatory capacity, behaviour, and wellbeing through long-term data collection.

Shrub design and management: The aim of this experiment is to establish four sites that incorporate different aspects of shelter, including density, configuration, edible versus non-edible species, and the impact on microclimate at a spatial scale on lamb survival and ewe and lamb wellbeing over two years.

Ewe and lamb physiology: The aim of this experiment is to investigate the impact of three shelter options at lambing on body temperature, utilisation of shelter, and behaviour of the ewes and lambs.

Crop height (2022): This experiment will compare the survival of twin lambs born in paddocks with crop at different height (high ≈30cm, medium ≈20cm, and low ≈10cm) with that of twin lambs born in the best pasture lambing paddock. It further aims to assess grazing behaviour, activity, and utilisation of shelter by ewes.

Shelter and lamb survival: This experiment will compare the survival of twin lambs to marking when born in a paddock with shrubs or crop compared to the best pasture lambing paddock on the farm. A total of 28 on-farm research sites will be established over three years in WA and NSW.

 

Modelling – systems integration:

The biophysical and economic outcomes of edible shelter for lambing will be evaluated using CSIRO’s farm systems modelling software (AusFarm and GrassGro software).

 

How to get involved:

Shade and Shelter Survey

 

Contact us:

Contact

Institute

Email

Project Section

Dr Serina Hancock

Murdoch University

s.hancock@murdoch.edu.au

Industry engagement, Crop height,  shelter and lamb survival

Dr Dominque Blache

University of Western Australia

dominique.blache@uwa.edu.au

Investigating heat stress in ewes – reproductive performance, Ewe and lamb physiology

Dr Hayley Norman

CSIRO

hayley.norman@csiro.au

Industry engagement, shrub design and management, modelling

Dr Gordon Refshauge

NSWDPI

gordon.refshauge@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Industry engagement, Crop height,  shelter and lamb survival