$2.35m research funding to improve lamb survival

November 29, 2017

From left to right Caroline Jacobson, Sarah Blumer, Serina Hancock and Amy Lockwood

Lamb welfare: Murdoch researchers will be helping to improve lamb and ewe survival rates. (From left to right Caroline Jacobson, Sarah Blumer, Serina Hancock and Amy Lockwood)

Three Murdoch University research projects, which aim to improve reproductive outcomes in sheep and lambs, have won funding worth $2.35 million from Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA).

Led by Associate Professor Andrew Thompson and Dr Caroline Jacobson from the School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, the projects will help to improve welfare and farm productivity.

Emerging Murdoch researchers Dr Serina Hancock, and PhD students Amy Lockwood and Sarah Blumer had significant input into the successful proposals and will be carrying out the research.

“Australian farmers care for the welfare of their animals and we are continually working on developing and facilitating the adoption of new management techniques to help them achieve this,” said Professor Thompson.

“To be among 12 projects chosen from the 149 beef and sheep proposals submitted is particularly satisfying because the process for selecting projects for funding included consultation with livestock producers and a panel of scientific experts.

“It shows that Murdoch animal production research is strongly aligned with tackling important issues that farmers face day to day.”

More than 100 research and development sites on commercial sheep farms throughout Australia will be involved across the three four-year projects.

Dr Jacobson will be leading a project that aims to improve reproductive performance from young ewes.

“Currently Australian farmers are experiencing variable success for ewes being mated at either eight to 10 months of age, or at 18 to 20 months of age. Our project will attempt to understand why this is the case and help find management solutions,” Dr Jacobson said.

Dr Hancock said previous research had indicated that infectious disease could be a factor causing ewes to lose lambs during pregnancy.

“Young sheep are more likely to be exposed to diseases for the first time during pregnancy, and our project will investigate whether this exposure is impacting pregnancy outcomes for young ewes across Australia,” she said.

Dr Jacobson, Dr Hancock and their team will be reviewing and collecting evidence of infections associated with lamb deaths, as well as utilising a national database of information on the reproductive rates of ewes.

They will also conduct field work on farms across Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria, monitoring ewes from before mating until the lambs are approximately six weeks old.

Dr Hancock and Ms Lockwood developed the second successful project, which will investigate whether lamb survival can be boosted by supplementing ewes with vitamins and minerals.

This project will establish on-farm research sites across southern Australia to validate a small scale experiment which found that supplementing ewes during late pregnancy with high levels of vitamin D or vitamin E plus selenium tended to improve lamb survival by up to 10 per cent.

“We’ll also be testing ewes on several farms for levels of these nutrients in order to identify when and where supplementation could be most beneficial,” Ms Lockwood said. “This will feed into guidelines which we’ll develop for farmers.”

The third project will develop best practice management techniques to improve the survival rates of triplet-bearing ewes and their offspring.

Ms Blumer, who will be part of the research team, said: “Triplet lambs are often more at risk than singles or twins because their birth weights can be low, making them more vulnerable to mis-mothering and hypothermia during the first 24 to 48 hours of life.

“We will be working closely with the pregnancy scanning industry and producers to investigate whether management factors which influence the birth weights of triplet lambs and the formation of the ewe-lamb bond are important in improving survival rates.”

MLA said the successful projects addressed key industry priorities as determined by producers throughout Australia, and were selected in consultation with expert panels for their quality and high impact on the industry.

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