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THE sustainability of British sheep farming is dependent on the sale of lambs to provide income. The percentage of lambs reared is affected by losses at different stages in the sheep year cycle. Contributory factors for neonatal and perinatal lamb mortality in sheep are well researched (Haughey 1991, Binns and others 2002, Nowak and Poindron 2006, Dwyer and others 2016) and major causes of subsequent postnatal losses in lowland and upland flocks are well known. For some, reduction of losses can be achieved through appropriate management and preventive health strategies. In the hills, the extensive nature of the production system, combined with comparative remoteness and inaccessibility, makes both quantifying losses and identifying potential causes more challenging. This hampers our ability to determine how such losses can be reduced. In the period 2010–2013, annual lamb mortality estimates for Scottish, less-favoured area, hill, breeding flocks varied from 7 per cent to 17 per cent. These estimates were derived from purebred Blackface and Cheviot flocks (Anon 2013, 2015; number of flocks was less than 30). The preliminary investigation aimed to explore the level of losses experienced by a wider population of sheep farmers in the Highlands and Islands areas of Scotland.
There were two components: first, a questionnaire survey and, second, a more detailed study of five holdings. A brief one-page questionnaire was sent to sheep-producing clients from six SAC Consulting Farm and Rural Business Services (FRBS) Highland offices in April 2011. For the 2011 lambing season, it requested the number of ewes—scanned in …