Data-driven agriculture is being promoted as a key way to ensure that sheep farming in Wales is as profitable and sustainable as possible, while also promoting the best possible health of flocks.

One south Wales farmer, who is part of a proactive animal health project that involves over 250 farms, is seeing several benefits from regularly weighing livestock after spring lambing.

Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) is promoting measuring daily live weight gain as part of the Stoc+ project which is one strand of the Red Meat Development Programme (RMDP).

Stoc+ is a five-year Welsh Government and European Union-funded initiative aiming to promote pro-active flock and herd health planning to ensure a more profitable and sustainable red meat sector in Wales.

Dr Rebekah Stuart, HCC flock and herd executive who leads on the Stoc+ project explains: “Farmers can see multiple benefits from monitoring lamb performance.

"Weighing lambs regularly will help farmers estimate the amount of days to finish, evaluate the lamb and feed performance, and identify whether changes in any new management practices are having an effect.

“The regular monitoring of lamb growth will ensure that any problems and poor performing lambs can be identified early and adjustments can be made accordingly. It will also aid in the control of parasites which could be affecting lambs’ growth.”

As part of the Stoc+ project, the team have identified a number of ambassadors who include farmers and veterinary practitioners. Their role includes encouraging their peers to get involved and demonstrating the practical benefits of proactive health planning in terms of animal health and farm profitability.

Gwyn Johnson from Pontypridd is one of the farm ambassadors for the project and has seen various benefits of monitoring lamb performance.

Mr Johnson, who looked at optimising anthelmintic treatments during his HCC Scholarship study in 2012, has an upland farm with 500 ewes and 120 replacement ewe lambs, and outwinters store cattle.

He explains: “Replacement ewe lambs are weighed and tagged at birth. This information is recorded in an Electronic Identification (EID) database which is linked to the ram. The ewe lambs are weighed at eight weeks and at intervals prior to and following weaning.

“The lambs’ eight-week weight gives us an indication of their dams’ maternal ability; the lambs with the greatest daily live weight gain are those most likely to be kept as replacements. The growth of ewe lambs also gives a valuable insight into how the main group of lambs are performing.

"High daily live weight gain is indicative of good animal health and also the eventual number of days to slaughter. Both of which are main drivers in flock profitability.”

Stoc+ is supported by the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.