Challenge sheep project


Beef & Lamb
Project code:
01 October 2016 - 30 September 2024
Total project value:
Project leader:

About this project

Understanding the impact of the management of replacement ewes through their first pregnancy and lactation on their lifetime performance

The Problem

It is clear that the management of replacements entering the national flock needs improving, as too many of them are not retained after their first breeding season due to premature culling or death.  There is a lack of up-to-date information on this subject and the potential benefits of getting the management right.
The data from the Longwool project (2007) suggests that nearly 7% of ewes need culling in their first year with an additional 4% that die.  The current average price for a replacement is around £120 per head, so if 250 shearlings are purchased with a cost of around £30,000.  After one year, 7% of these ewes may be sold for £65 as culls and 4% have died, which equates to a loss of £2,162 or around a 7% loss in value per year.
With 7,057,000 breeding ewes and an average replacement rate of around 21% means that around 1.6 million ewes are entering the flock for the first time per year.  If their value of around £100 is reduced by around 7% within their first year, it equates to £10.9 million of value lost per year due to culling and death in the first breeding year.
Aims & Objectives
To develop best practice for managing replacements and to understand how implementing these guidelines can reduce replacement costs through reduced premature culling of ewes and increase the farm’s profitability and optimise flock productivity.  The research work will be done alongside an extensive KE programme to ensure results get taken up rapidly by the sheep industry.
The objectives are:
  1. To identify best practice for management of replacements from a network of producers, researchers and consultants using participatory action research techniques
  2. To monitor replacements brought into the flocks in 2017 and 2018 over their productive lifetime on ten farms through extensive analysis of EID data and benchmarking
  3. To communicate the activity through a planned KE programme with a range of approaches employed
  4. To collect additional information, such as DNA, health status and antimicrobial use, to complement other project


Challenge Sheep will monitor replacement ewes that enter up to fifteen flocks recruited from across England to represent the range of lamb production systems.  2,500 replacements that enter the flock in 2017 and another 2,500 replacements that enter the flock in 2018 will be monitored until 2023 through the use of electronic identification (EID) equipment.  Information will be gather on their weight and body condition score (BCS) at various points through the year and lamb performance and health records will be collected.  A project coordinator will work with the producers and their software providers to analysis the huge amount of data being generated.
Workshops will be held throughout the programme to gather expert opinions and to ensure information is being communicated back to consultants, advisers, vets and researchers, and to ensure the project is using the best known information.
Flocks will hold on-farm events and discussion groups will be established at each flock to provide more in-depth information and benchmarking to local producers.  The location of these events will be moved around to ensure interest is maintained.  A series of press and BRP articles, twitter updates, newsletters and webinars will be planned to ensure the results are communicated wider than the Challenge Sheep farms.  Surveys will be conducted throughout the programme to track changes in attitudes in producers who are attending events and those that haven’t attended.  The information gathered via surveys will be used within the evaluation process.

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