Selection for easier managed sheep
Current alterations in the farm environment, such as a reduced number of farm workers, may mean that sheep genotypes that are highly dependent on man for nutritional and reproductive success will experience poorer welfare within that environment. In the past 30 years, average flock size has doubled, and flocks of over 1,000 ewes managed by one stockperson are common. The reduction in the ratio of stockpeople to sheep affects animal welfare, with less time for tasks such as healthcare and inspection. It has also led to increased interest in the development of new genotypes that are better able to look after themselves. Selection and management of sheep to promote behaviours associated with survival, and selection of robust animals that require less human intervention for good welfare, are important breeding goals. As these animals will receive less inspection at close quarters, selection for resistance to disease will have significant animal welfare benefits. In addition, the development of sheep lines that require little or no intervention at lambing will be important. In areas where wool is not valuable, the use of wool-shedding breeds to avoid the stress associated with shearing, and to reduce the incidence of flystrike are already proving to be beneficial. Importantly, this selection should not be interpreted as providing no care to these animals, and careful management during the production of these genotypes is needed to avoid at least transient welfare problems where genotypes and environment (eg lower shepherding) are mismatched.
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