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Global Sheep Forum - Case Studies
 

 America Lamb Board
 
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Case Study 1
Looking at the Whole Picture: Regenerative Farming at Hamilton Sheep Station

Regenerative farming, says sheep rancher and veterinarian Alan McAnelly, is nothing new. In fact, this holistic, conservationist approach draws from farming methods that existed long ago. Historically, anywhere people have had to subsist off what they could raise on poor-quality soil, they have tried to improve it. In recent years, regenerative farming has become increasingly popular as a cost-effective way to improve your land and livestock with an eye towards sustainability.

 

It requires taking a big picture view of the land, and techniques include doing what you can to plant a diverse array of crops, prevent the erosion of topsoil, encourage native plants and insects to thrive, and help the land absorb and retain as much water as possible.

It also means raising sheep. According to McAnelly, sheep are the perfect livestock to raise in a regenerative farming environment: “For their digestive system and how they utilize water, sheep are just made for grazing pastures. They’re better than any other livestock for using all the weeds.” He should know. After graduating from Texas A&M University in 1969, McAnelly was a veterinarian for decades before he took up sheep farming just outside Hamilton, Texas. 


Unlike the Panhandle farm where he grew up, McAnelly does not plow the soil at his ranch, Hamilton Sheep Station, nor does he amend it with fertilizer. Plowing releases carbon into the air, disrupts vital earthworm and dung beetle populations, and compacts the soil—and besides, by his own admission, his land is substandard. “You might say rocky,” he laughs. “There’s no water underneath it. It’s nice land; it’s pretty land. But it’s a poor-quality land.” In other words, it may not be good for growing traditional cash crops, but it’s great for raising sheep.


“We may be more of a sheep operation because the lack of water keeps us from raising corn,” says McAnelly. And to that end, he caters to their needs, planting cover crops like clover, Sorghum-Sudangrass, and Hairy Vetch that both improve the soil and feed his herd. He even shares his vegetables with them. “My little lambs do very well on cover crops,” he says. “They can eat a little turnip, they can eat a little beet, they can have a little radish. It's like a salad bar.” McAnelly selects crops to improve nitrogen content, organic content, and help the land retain more water. He sees his land getting more productive each year—and the sheep produce better meat because the animals’ diets are rich and diverse.


Particularly as the already-hot climate of Texas endures progressively dryer summers that come with climate change, farming methods that conserve water are crucial. “It’s not raining now, and it’s tough,” he says. “Nothing works without rain.” But what you can do is make the small amount of rain that does fall support the ranch for longer. McAnelly explains it thusly: Plowing compacts the land, meaning no matter how much rain falls, plowed land absorbs less of it. To increase absorption, you need softer soil. This is achieved in a few ways, including supporting the earthworms and dung beetles who literally dig tiny holes through the soil, adding organic matter to the soil. Crops chosen
for their roots’ ability to loosen soil also help. “I can’t make it rain, but I can make it further between rains,” he says, noting his land will absorb “several inches more” rain than a plowed field during the same rain event.


At Hamilton Sheep Station, regenerative farming is a practical choice, but it’s also a beneficial one from nearly every angle. It’s a cost-effective method of farming, because you aren’t paying for large-scale plowing equipment, the diesel required to run them, or fertilizer. It’s better for the environment, because you’re improving the topsoil, supporting insect populations, and not using an excess of chemicals. And the sheep are grazing to their hearts’ content on a diverse diet of cover crops, vegetables, and weeds. “I’m using agriculture with a low-cost input to support the health of the soil, plants and animals. That’s the bottom line. That’s the whole story right there.”

 National Sheep Association
 
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Case Study 2
Preventative Health care to tackle Footrot

Dan Pritchard, farms on the salt marsh at Llanrhidian, on the Gower peninsular of South Wales
at Weobley Castle Farm. The family has common rights to graze 4,000 acres here, as well as the
250-acre farm. In 2017, the Targets Task Force Report identified the control of lameness as a
‘hotspot’ area where current behaviour on some farms would not reflect what is now be
regarded as responsible use of good practice.

Managing around 1,000 ewes on this terrain has led to Mr Pritchard improving his lameness management through industry recommendations.

In December 2020, Mr. Pritchard began recording lameness prevalence to benchmark their
flock before instigating a preventative healthcare plan. With a starting point of just under 7%
lameness in the flock, Mr Pritchard was already achieving a respectable low value in
comparison to industry. With the estimated cost from footrot alone in Great Britain being
between £20-80 million each year (AHDB, 2022), Mr Pritchard was keen to pursue this ‘room for
improvement’.


Complete eradication of lameness may not be possible on all farms but increased
understanding of the condition and the different causes can significantly reduce the impact and
overall prevalence. With a starting position to gauge his progress, Mr Pritchard evaluated his
situation, enabling him to establish a treatment and prevention strategy and set an achievable
target. Before this time, he was not using a specific preventative vaccination programme for
control of footrot. He was also not fully aware of the industry recognised guidelines for
controlling lameness through the five-point plan (Figure 1).


The Target Task Force encourages adoption of the five-point plan within the sheep sector as
part of an agreed national strategy to achieve Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) target of
reducing sheep lameness to less than 2% by 2021. It enables a clear strategy to manage
lameness in individual flocks, aiming to achieve disease control on farm. It was developed by
combining existing research on lameness in sheep, with practical experience of farmers who
had achieved and maintained low levels lameness on farm. The five management strategies
(cull, quarantine, vaccinate, avoid and treat) aim to build resilience, reduce disease challenge
and establish immunity within the flock, leading to low lameness prevalence.
Mr Pritchard began implementing the guidelines within the five-point plan including adoption
of a vaccination programme for footrot in accordance with manufactures guidelines. Running a
business on the salt marshes has increased the risk of bacteria thriving in these wet
environments. As part of the ‘avoid’ management strategy Mr Pritchard is now using lime
around high traffic areas such as handling areas and around water troughs to reduce the risk of
spreading disease.


Using lameness scoring on a 1-3 scale, with 1 being slightly lame, 2 being moderately lame and
3 being severely lame Dan has been able to continually monitor lameness on farm and work to
reduce the prevalence. This assists in the ‘treat’ element of the five-point plan, encouraging
treatment within 3 days of identifying a lame sheep. This has reduced the any risk of infection
and spreading among the flock. In addition, Mr Pritchard has also adopted clearly marking the
leg of the animal treated. This allows quick identification of those that have been treated and
allows ensures that the infection isn’t spreading to other feet on the same animal. It also allows
identification of any continuously lame sheep to be culled out accordingly removing them as a
potential super spreader of infection. The final management strategy adopted as part of the
five-point plan is quarantine. Any animals brough onto Weobley Castle Farm, where possible
come from known, sources with low levels of lameness and are ideally vaccinating against
footrot, and using the five-point plan on farm. Mr Pritchard has adopted routine foot inspection
of all incoming animals and rejects anything with chronically misshapen feet.


By adopting these management strategies as part of preventative healthcare to tackle
lameness, Mr Pritchard’s lameness had reduced to just over 4% in December 2021 and when
last recorded in July 2022 this had dropped to just above 2%. The Target Task Force has
developed a target to increase uptake of the five-point plan to control lameness within the
sheep sector, measured by an increase in footrot vaccine sales of 5% per year since 2017. By
following the five-point plan guidelines, monitoring, quarantining, culling and vaccinating, Mr
Pritchard has successfully reduced lameness and can hopefully sustain low levels by continuing
to use good practice guidelines.

References:

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Case Study 3
Colostrum management to reduce antibiotic use in new-born lambs.

Overtown Farm is a 560 acre (226ha) organic farm in the Gloucestershire Cotswold Hills in southwest England, owned by conservation charity, the National Trust. The Whitaker family have farmed at Overtown for over 70 years and the current tenants, Martin and Pauhla Whitaker, converted the farm to organic production in 1999. They run approximately 380 cross bred ewes, lambing indoors in April and a suckler herd of approximately 70 Hereford and Aberdeen Angus cows, calving indoors in February/March and outdoors in July/August. 

Health planning and preventative actions are an essential part of their farm system, and the farm has had a livestock health and management plan since 1999, created as part of the organic conversion process. “The health plan is dynamic and regular reviews enable us to identify areas that are working well, and situations that need attention and discussion with our vet. Initially, we worked closely with, one of our local vets, but in recent years, we moved the health planning to another level by becoming part of the Flock Health LTD Scheme,” Pauhla comments. Being part of the Flock Health scheme gives the Whitakers two on-farm visits per year, which they chose to have at lambing and in early Autumn for a Ram pre-breeding check. They combine these on farm visits with regular vet engagement for advice on issues such as worming strategy and updates on general sheep health matters.


An example of how this pro-active thinking translates into a practical approach, is Colostrum management at lambing time.  


Historically, the level of watery mouth in lambs in the first few days of life has always been a source of great frustration to us as we have no dedicated lambing shed, and the ewes have to lamb in a shed that is used to house cattle in winter. As the cows calve in Late February onwards, it is often a race against time (and weather) to get them turned out and the sheds mucked out and disinfected in time to house the ewes. Ideally the sheds would be left empty for several weeks, but in reality ewes may be housed within 72 hours of the cattle vacating them, and so there is always a background level of contamination that is impossible to remove”, Martin says.


Despite full disinfection of all lambing sheds and equipment, careful monitoring of ewe protein intake from four weeks pre-lambing and strict hygiene with any assisted lambings or when handling/feeding lambs, levels of watery month still remain at around 9%, equating to 60 lambs each year.


Mortality is relatively low at around 2% (12 lambs/year), due to veterinary agreed treatment protocol and the constant supervision of the lambing pens to pick up cases early. But this is both time-consuming and sometimes demoralising for the Whitakers. “There was the option to use Spectam (Spectinomycin), an oral antibiotic active against E.coli and licensed for the prevention of watery mouth, when the bacterial load in the lambing shed increased mid-way through lambing and cases reached a certain figure, but we were always uncomfortable about using antibiotics prophylactically, especially for what is, in theory an entirely preventable disease,” Pauhla says. Spectam has since been withdrawn from the UK market (2021), preventing this type of prophylactic use of antibiotics.  


We always tried to milk out and feed colostrum to vulnerable lambs e.g. triplets, but at busy times or when there was no fresh colostrum available, we had to rely on expensive powdered Colostrum,” Pauhla continues. They tried a number of different brands, changing several times, but could never find a result they were happy with. It has been shown from industry research (Bond, 2020) that artificial colostrum doesn’t achieve the adequate antibody levels to guard against E.coli and can’t be relied upon to prevent Watery Mouth. “One solution would be to inject all lambs with 1ml of Penicillin at birth, but this goes against best practise for preventing antimicrobial resistance and seemed a very retrogressive step,” Martin comments.

The Whitakers decided to utilise recording keeping to their full advantage. They EID tag all lambs allowing linage to be monitored easily. Pauhla says: “We started to record ewe body condition scores (BCS) at various points during the year and actively selected ewes who held their BCS throughout the season. In theory, along with adequate levels of high-quality protein fed at lambing, this should mean colostrum quality could be optimised.” They decided to purchase an EZ milker hand milker (around £120) to harvest colostrum from any ‘milky’ ewes, and a BRIX refractometer to test colostrum quality. They have found the EZ milker simple to use, relatively inexpensive and makes milking out ewes fast and hygienic, but it was the BRIX that was a real game changer.  BRIX refractometers are used by amateur beer and winemakers and are available online for around £15.


Pauhla continues: “It only takes seconds to strip a few drops of milk from a ewe when she is penned up at lambing and read the figure on the BRIX scale. Over 25% translates to good quality colostrum that will give lambs protection from E.coli and other pathogens until their own immune systems develop. If the value falls under 26%, it simply isn’t good enough and the lambs should be fed colostrum from another ewe if possible, although it can be mixed with colostrum from other ewes and retested to give a “pooled” sample of a higher value”.


The other advantage of the BRIX comes when deciding which colostrum to freeze. Any colostrum milked out to be frozen for use at the start of lambing in the following year, can be tested to make sure it is worth keeping.

“At the same time as testing colostrum, we BCS the ewe and record both figures with the EID reader. This means at the end of the year, any ewes with poor BCS and poor colostrum quality can be marked out as potential culls, improving the breeding stock for subsequent years. 
"This quick and cheap addition to our lambing system helps us know exactly which litters could be colostrum deprived, and vulnerable to diseases, enabling us to take pre-emptive action to supplement the lambs and reduce the chances of infection,”
she concludes. 

By introducing better colostrum management, not only have they saved time spent on treatment and nursing of sick lambs at a time when skilled labour is already under pressure, it has also reduced the financial losses through lamb mortality and increased medicine use. Most importantly, it helps to reduce antimicrobial use on farm, ultimately protecting the efficacy of vital medicines for situations when they are the only option available.


References:
Bond, C. (2020). Evaluation of lamb colostrum supplements. Vet Rec. 187(11): e100.

 

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Case Study 4
Increased biosecurity protocols to mitigate disease risk

Bryan and Liz Griffiths have been farming for over 38 years in Southcotte, Devon. They run 850 sheep and some finishing cattle on 320 acres.

 

After being hit hard by the introduction of border disease around 10 years ago, it’s not surprising their biosecurity protocol are first rate.

Bryan continues: “When purchasing new stock, we have strict biosecurity protocols at the market and on return to the farm. Firstly, all animals are treated with three anthelmintic drenches. Cydectin (3-ML, clear) and Zolvix (4-AD, orange) along with Solental (narrow spectrum product) containing the active ingredient Closantel specifically for liver fluke, are given in the pens at the market, in the knowledge that they have a long journey ahead and will be empty by the time they get back to the farm”. 


SCOPS states that group 4 (AD, orange) and group 5 (-purple) are central to a quarantine strategy aimed at the removal of worms resistant to one or more of the Group 1 (BZ-white), 2 (LV-yellow) or 3 (ML-clear) anthelmintics. Bryan and Liz opt for the silver SCOPS standard by using group3 and group 4 together. In relation to liver fluke, Bryan and Liz select their drench carefully, as triclabendazole resistant fluke have previously been a problem on farm. SCOPS recommends using the ‘Know your anthelmintic guide’ when selecting your product of choice and discussing options with an adviser.  

As recommended, Bryan and Liz quarantine their stock away from the home flock on returning from the market. They are put in a field, rather than housed on return as they feel this allows improved welfare after a long day penned up and, in the trailer. SCOPS principles recommend isolation from all home stock for three to four weeks depending on risk status for parasites. Bryan and Liz chose to isolate their incoming stock for 18 months. Bryan comments: “We chose to keep the ewe lambs separate for 18 months to ensure we mitigate the risk against bringing in border disease to our home flock. We had a case 10 years back where only one of the 100 ewe lambs bought in was a persistently infected animal with border disease, and it devastated the home flock.” 

Persistently infected (PI) animals can show no symptoms of border disease, meaning they look healthy but can infected others through bodily secretions. Border disease is only damaging when it comes in contact with pregnant ewes. If infection occurs in early pregnancy, foetal death is common resulting in absorption, which only becomes apparent at scanning as high numbers of barren ewes are observed. Infection in later pregnancy results in a high frequency of abortions, still births and non-viable lambs. 
Unfortunately, the single PI ewe was introduced to our home flock, unknowingly at the worst time for infection with border disease – when the ewes were in-lamb. Due to the lack of any symptoms of this disease, we were unaware of the consequences of mixing this single animal with the home flock. We lost huge numbers of lambs and incurred high costs for testing to identify the PI animal” Bryan reports. 


Aiming not to be caught out again, the 18-month isolation period allows new stock to go through two lamb crops before they are deemed low risk of border disease and introduced to the home flock as shearlings. “Allowing new stock to go through two lambing crops enables us to identify potential PI animals by observation” Liz says. When infected in the uterus, the border disease virus affects lambs nervous system resulting in a tremor and also affects the cells responsible for producing fleece, resulting in a hairy, coarse coat, different from the norm. These are known as ‘hairy shaker’ lambs. “These symptoms are easy to spot, making diseased lambs easy to identify. After seeing the disastrous effects one ewe lamb brought to our home flock, there’s no way we’d risk that again” Liz concludes. 

By implementing strict biosecurity procedures and further disease monitoring protocols, Bryan and Liz are able to reduce the risks, enabling them to bring in stock without compromising the health status of their home flock.
 

 Sheep Producers Australia
 
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Case Study 5

Tim Leeming, a prime lamb producer from south western Victoria, said animal wellbeing is a
fundamental part of his operation. “If you look after your livestock and make sure that they’re not suffering from pain, they’re fit and healthy, and you’re providing them the optimum nutrition at the right times of the year - it’s a win-win situation.”  Tim Leeming at Pigeon Ponds, VIC Tim and Georgie Leeming, along with their two daughters, run 1800-hectare Paradoo Prime at Pigeon Ponds, in south-west Victoria, a self-replacing composite flock of 9500 ewes.

 

Since building their enterprise from humble beginnings, the Leemings have always focused on consistently improving lamb survival and increasing reproductive efficiency within their flock.

“This has been achieved through a range of management practices including pain relief as well as others we have developed ourselves and shared across industry such as mob size reduction and
precision lambing through short strategic joinings,”
Mr Leeming said.


“In terms of pain relief specifically, over the past five years we’ve used products such as Numnuts® which we were just so keen to use. We’ve trialled a combination of an anaesthetic and analgesic,
using Numnuts® and Metacam®, which we think is probably the gold standard really for pain relief
in sheep.”


Metacam®, an injectable meloxicam product, is a long lasting non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.


“It’s such a wonderful thing that we take on board pain relief for animals. We strongly encourage all farmers out there to use it.”

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Case Study 6

Western Australian Lynley Anderson has looked to breeding to help animal wellbeing, developing a sheep that does not require mulesing and that is worm resistant.

As a Poll Merino stud breeder, it was really important to us to stop mulesing first so that our clients who want to stop mulesing can then know that the bloodline they’re buying can cope with

being non-mulesed,” Ms Anderson, who runs a sheep and grain property three hours south of Perth, said.

She says plain-bodied sheep are also less likely to have problems with wool faults and flystrike.
“And now we are finding that non-mulesed sheep are being actively sought-after, particularly
by people who are participating in quality assurance schemes.”


The commitment to non-mulesed has also delivered Ms Anderson a premium, with average prices at the top end for Merino sales in WA. 

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Case Study 7

Biodiversity is the variety of all life forms on earth – the different plants, animals and micro organisms and the ecosystems of which they are a part. It is sometimes referred to as ‘the library of life’.
The value of Australia’s biodiversity is difficult to measure, but biodiversity is a key part of Australia’s
national identity and is integral to subsistence and cultural activity for Indigenous Australians. It is also fundamentally important to environmental services that support human health and wellbeing, and economically important to a wide range of industries such as tourism, agriculture, and pharmaceuticals.


Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) piloted an ecological assessment process, called Natural Capital Accounting (NCA), so woolgrowers can track the health of their environment and identify and
monitor the relationship between farming practice, environmental impact, and farm business performance. 


Lana is 3,470 hectares of grasslands located on the Northern Tablelands of NSW run by woolgrowers Tim and Suzanne Wright. The Wrights were one of the 11 enterprises participating in the NCA pilot where environmental health could be tracked over time.

For Lana, the results from the Natural Capital Accounting process were significant. It was found that:

  • Lana sequesters 9.45 ktCO2e per year;

  • Over the past 13 years, ground cover at Lana remained above 90% and peaked at 100%;

  • The Lana environment rated as highly functional and contributes an extensive range of natural regulating, provisioning, and cultural services.

 

Tim has implemented a grazing plan where 95% of Lana is in rest and recovery mode throughout the year. Stock graze each period briefly and move on, leaving fertiliser in the form of manure and urine and mulch in the trampled pastures.


As a result of the management, native fauna and flora thrive at Lana including endangered aquatic species such as the bell turtle and platypus.


These endangered species are protected at Lana as the management allows for the grassland to function in a natural state, with pastures and shrubs abundant along the riparian areas ensuring suitable habitats both in and around the water.


Along with increasing flock size and wool quality production, Lana has seen remarkable increases
in biodiversity, maintenance of ground cover through varying weather and climatic events and an increase in drought resilience.