Improving neonatal survival of lambs and suckled calves

Improving neonatal survival of lambs and suckled calves [CLOSED]

In February 2018 agreement was reached to ring-fence AHDB funds for joint activities with Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC) and Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), the red meat levy bodies in Scotland and Wales[1].  This agreement includes some research activities and this call reflects the shared priorities of the three organisations.

 AHDB, HCC and QMS have identified improving neonatal survival of lambs and suckled calves as a key area to improve productivity. Around lambing and calving are high risk periods in terms of losses (through both mortality and morbidity), particularly due to infectious disease. There is a need to understand the disease challenges during this period for a range of sheep and suckler beef systems throughout Great Britain. Medicines used to prevent neonatal losses, for example antibiotics to prevent watery mouth and joint ill in lambs and scours in calves, need to be benchmarked and their effectiveness measured.

There is a need to explore the relationships between beef and sheep farmers and their vets and other advisers to understand whether they can be made more effective in supporting farmers’ needs. This is particularly relevant as changes to assurance schemes may require farmers to have more regular contact with their vets, with losses being a major discussion point. It would be useful to get a baseline of current practice.

For sheep and suckler beef systems, recent, robust and reliable data about actual losses and their causes is not readily available. Another challenge is the lack of standardisation on how losses are recorded, e.g. in the first 24, 48 hours, seven days or up to four weeks.  Further losses are incurred through animals that survive but have reduced performance from disease (and are also likely to have higher associated antimicrobial use).

There are opportunities to use new technology and techniques to reduce the impact of disease and improve survival through effective disease diagnostics, e.g. pen-side tests or post-mortem services at fallen stock centres.

On behalf of the three levy organisations, AHDB is therefore seeking proposals for research and development work to enhance understanding of neonatal infection and the industry’s current practice, and to highlight cost-effective ways of enhancing disease diagnostics in neonatal animals. It is anticipated that this project will be two years in duration.

Proposals in response to this call should be received no later than 30th June. Your proposal should be sent electronically to noting P1804238 in the subject header.

Any queries should be emailed to noting the same reference in the subject header. 

Questions and answers for this call


This project will require the successful research team to:

  • Work with a wide selection of vet practices and advisers to develop a representative network of commercial farms across Great Britain that are willing to provide information on losses (mortality and morbidity) and medicine use, and to evaluate new approaches to record the impact of disease
    • These farms can be linked to other projects or initiatives as long as the results can be communicated widely
    • Case studies for a variety of disease challenges from a range of sheep and suckler farms on losses and medicine use, including the financial impacts, should be developed
  • Develop and demonstrate ideas of how to enhance the relationships between farmers and their vets and advisers on interrogating neonatal losses, perhaps using social science techniques
  • Collate current losses data from a range of sources and the project farms, and propose an appropriate way of recording and benchmarking losses
  • Understand reasons for losses, including health and management reasons, and explore how these can be avoided in future
  • Review of the technology and techniques that are available to farmers and their advisers, with indication of cost, usefulness and ease of interpretation, such as routine pen side tests, post-mortems on all deadstock, monitoring technology and targeted surveillance at abattoirs
    • Calculate the financial and practical costs and benefits of using technology and techniques to improve survival using data from the project farms and develop case studies
    • Identify gaps for future research activity


 Requirements of proposals

The proposal should take into consideration other activity in this area for example, AHDB work on benchmarking medicine use in the cattle sector and calf monitoring projects, plus work that is going to commence in Northern Ireland (STAMP) and activity that is being delivered by Farming Connect in Wales. Proposals should describe opportunities to benefit from the existing network of strategic, monitor and other project farms operating across GB.

Knowledge exchange plans will be developed during the final stages of the project in discussion with AHDB, HCC and QMS, with country-specific delivery as appropriate. For example, AHDB, HCC and QMS may want to use the project farms to host one-off events.  Project outcomes should be presented in a manner that can feed into knowledge exchange activity.

Quarterly progress reports to all three organisations will be required, plus three face-to-face meetings over the course of the project (initiation, mid-way and to discuss draft final report). Case studies should be made available throughout the project.

This activity will feed into the organisations’ responses to the Responsible use of Medicine in Agriculture (RUMA) Alliance sector targets and support potential developments in farm assurance in this area.

This project could be used as part of a training programme for young researchers, such as a fellowship


A budget of £300,000 for a two year project has been set aside for this work.  The aim is to start activity in September 2018.

Full proposals should be submitted on the AHDB Full Project Proposal form 


Assessment of applications

Proposals received in response to this call will be assessed by a panel representing AHDB, HCC and QMS.

Proposals will be judged according to the criteria detailed on the latest version of the application form, currently:

  1. Project outcomes
  2. Technical approach and work plan
  3. Relevant expertise
  4. Project Costs

Applications may be offered to equivalent organisations in Northern Ireland (AgriSearch) or discussed with government departments to explore joint funding possibilities.  If proposers do not wish their proposal to be passed on in this way, this should be indicated on the submission.

AHDB reserves the right to ask proposers to combine project ideas and resubmit revised joint proposals.  Applicants may choose to withdraw if they do not wish to pursue this and AHDB will not divulge to other parties (other than as described above) the content of any applications without the permission of the applicant.

Applicants will be informed of the outcome of the assessment within one month of the meeting of the assessment panel at which it is considered, but any such communication is subject to contractual terms being agreed.



The research contract will be held by AHDB and AHDB Standard contractual terms for research will apply.  A schedule for review meetings and reporting will be agreed during contract negotiations.  This will include a written final report (submitted electronically).


[1] This project is being financed as part of a £2 million fund of AHDB red meat levies ring-fenced for collaborative projects as an interim arrangement while a long-term solution is sought on the issue of levies being collected at point of slaughter in England, for animals which have been reared in Scotland or Wales.