Proceedings

NPR – The Economics Of The Welfare And Labour Input Of Hill Sheep In The UK (p190-197)

There is increasing interest by the public, scientists and farmers in animal welfare with a perception that labour input and welfare are positively related. Extensively farmed hill sheep are considered to have a relatively natural life and thus good welfare though there has been little data or research to support this view. This study recorded actual labour deployment on three typical extensive UK hill farms over the lambing period. The data was used to build a Linear Program Model to explore the labour, productivity, and welfare relationship. Tasks observed were categorised into fixed – planned independent of sheep numbers, planned dependant on sheep numbers, unplanned if not undertaken leading to loss of ewes/lambs or to potential loss. Most time was found to be spent on planned routine tasks such as driving, feeding – providing overall flock welfare- and checking to see if other tasks were needed. Very little time was spent on the unplanned welfare tasks such as lambing ewes. Modelling showed that more sheep could be kept if the unplanned welfare tasks were ignored but with serious consequences for those few sheep requiring these tasks. Very few ewes required assistance to lamb so reducing the need to lamb ewes by 90% to simulate ‘easy care’ sheep had little effect on labour requirements suggesting the hill breeds studied are well adapted to their extensive environment with minimum human intervention. Implementing recent legislation to castrate all male lambs before 7 days of age and to tag all lambs at birth would greatly increase labour requirements. The study supports the hypothesis that labour, productivity and welfare are related in extensive hill sheep farming in the UK.

Keywords: Labour, Welfare, Hill Sheep, Lambing

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Author(s): Edwards, I.E., Kirwan, S., Stott, A.W., Thomson, K.

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Organizations(s): Scottish Agricultural College, University of Aberdeen