Improving the climate resilience of the Australian sheep industry
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Improving the climate resilience of the Australian sheep industry
Lead organisation: University of Adelaide
Hub members and partners involved: South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), Barossa Improved Grazing Group, MacKillop Farm Management Group, Murray Plains Farmers, Elders Rural Services
Project Category: Innovation Activities
Project summary: 

This project seeks to improve the climate resilience of the Australian sheep industry by working with farming system groups to demonstrate practical and easily adoptable management strategies that improve thermoregulation of sheep, increase efficiency of feed utilisation during periods of extreme heat, and reduce the impacts of heat events on reproduction.

The project employs cost-effective, readily available interventions and management strategies that have the potential to improve the productivity and wellbeing of sheep during periods of nutritional and climate-induced stress.

Project description: 

Project researchers have quantified the improvement in flock productivity that occurs following implementation of these strategies within commercial farming systems. They have also identified the climatic thresholds above which sheep thermoregulation is challenged by heat events that occur on commercial farms, and established the relationship between these thresholds and reductions in wellbeing and fertility. This has enabled development of prediction models and calculators that sheep producers can use to predict when heat-alleviating strategies need to be implemented.

The project is taking innovative research outcomes based on sheep physiology and quantifying their benefits within commercial production systems – an approach that will facilitate uptake by the broader industry and support commercialisation.

Key achievements and results: 

  • Melatonin increased potential lambing rate by 19 lambs per 100 ewes mated.
  • Vitamin ADE increased potential lambing rate by 6 lambs per 100 ewes mated.
  • Betaine decreased water intake, which is indicative of increased hydration and reduced heat stress, demonstrating potential for use during periods of extreme heat and drought.
  • Two prototype calculators were also developed, which enable producers to:
    1. Predict the impact of melatonin and vitamin ADE (as well as other strategies) on the productivity and profitability of their flocks
    2. Use location-specific climate data to predict the impact of heat events during joining on their lambing rates, allowing them to make informed decisions around the adoption of heat-alleviating management strategies.