Optimising economic and environmental performances of sheep-meat farms does not fully fit with the meat industry demands

  • Marc BenoitEmail author
  • Rodolphe Sabatier
  • Jacques Lasseur
  • Philip Creighton
  • Bertrand Dumont
Research Article


Ruminant farming systems are questioned for their contribution to climate change and feed-food competition. Here, we analyse the economic and environmental performances of five sheep farming systems optimised in terms of ewe productivity and feeding costs. Systems are located in contrasting biogeographical areas along a gradient of decreasing agronomic potential from Ireland to the French Mediterranean rangelands. Applying a mechanistic model of flock and farm operation management to evaluate these five systems made it possible to highlight trade-offs between their economic performance under standardised economic conditions, environmental performances, and feed-food competition, but also discrepancies between sheep farm strategy and meat industry demands. Different management strategies resulted in ewe productivity ranging from 0.82 to 1.66 lambs ewe−1 year−1 between farming systems and concentrate use from 0 to 148 kg ewe−1 year −1. The two systems relying the most on grassland and rangelands show the best economic and environmental performances while minimising feed-food competition. This results from a good match between animal feed requirements and forage availability; these systems, however, generate a high seasonality of production that does not meet the industry demand for a regular meat supply throughout the year. The Irish system also follows a forage autonomy strategy, but with poorer environmental and economic performance due to intensification, higher price of land, and lower meat price. Both the accelerated reproduction system with three lambing periods in two years and the organic system generate a more regular lamb supply, but require a higher level of concentrate feed, which negatively affects performances. These results highlight for the first time that optimising economic and environmental performances at farm level does not fully fit with the meat industry demand for a regular lamb meat supply throughout the year and lamb conformation. Low-productivity but fully self-sufficient fodder livestock systems can achieve excellent economic performance, but require both specific skills and marketing adequacy.


Ruminants Farming system Feed-food competition Modelling Trade-offs Agroecology Organic farming Pastoralism 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Aurousseau B, Bauchart D, Faure X, Galot AL, Prache S, Micol D, Priolo A (2007) Indoor fattening of lambs raised on pasture. Part 1: influence of stall finishing duration on lipid classes and fatty acids in the longissimus thoracis muscle. Meat Sci 76(2):241–252. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Bellet V, Ferrand M (2014) Leviers de réduction des coûts de production en élevage ovin viande. Renc Rech Ruminants 21:187–190Google Scholar
  3. Bellet V, Experton C, Gac A, Laignel G, Morin E (2016) Les systèmes ovins biologiques sont-ils plus durables que les conventionnels ? Renc Rech Ruminants:243–246Google Scholar
  4. Benoit M (1998) A tool for simulation of sheep flock functioning, with it’s economic results: a help for adaptation to new contexts. INRA Prod Anim 11(3):199–209Google Scholar
  5. Benoit M, Dakpo H (2012) Greenhouse gas emissions on french meat sheep farms: analysis over the period 1987-2010. Emissions of Gas and Dust from Livestock, Edits. Hassouna M., Guigand N. Proceedings Emili 2012 congress, pp 384-387Google Scholar
  6. Benoit M, Laignel G (2006) Methods for processing technical and economic data on suckling sheep. The case of plain and mountain areas in France. Options Mediterraneennes. Serie A, Seminaires Mediterraneens (70):57-65
  7. Benoit M, Laignel G (2011) Long term analysis of meat sheep farming systems in France. Which dynamics of evolution and which factors can explain the economical performance? Inra Productions Animales 24(3):211–220Google Scholar
  8. Benoit M, Laignel G (2014) Sheep-for-meat farming systems in French semi-upland area. Adapting to new context: increased concentrates and energy prices, and new agricultural policy. Int J Sustain Dev 17(1):35–48. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Coop RL, Kyriazakis I (1999) Nutrition–parasite interaction. Vet Parasitol 87: 187-204CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dollé J, Faverdin P, Agabriel J, Sauvant D, Klumpp K (2013) Contribution de l’élevage bovin aux émissions de GES et au stockage de carbone selon les systèmes de production. Fourrages 2015:181–191Google Scholar
  11. Dumont B, Groot JCJ, Tichit M (2018) Review: make ruminants green again - how can sustainable intensification and agroecology converge for a better future? Animal 12(S2):s210–s219. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Dumont B, Ryschawy J, Duru M, Benoit M, Chatellier V, Delaby L, Donnars C, Dupraz P, Lemauviel-Lavenant S, Méda B, Vollet D, Sabatier R (2019) Review: associations among goods, impacts and ecosystem services provided by livestock farming. Animal 13(8): in press. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Earle E, Boland TM, McHugh N, Creighton P (2017) Measures of lamb production efficiency in a temperate grass-based system differing in ewe prolificacy potential and stocking rate. J.ANim. Sci 95(8):3504–3512. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Ertl P, Klocker H, Hörtenhuber S, Knaus W, Zollitsch W (2015) The net contribution of dairy production to human food supply: the case of Austrian dairy farms. Agric Syst 137:119–125. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. European Parliament (2008) The future of sheep and goat sector in Europe. Policy Department. Structural and Cohesion Policies. IP/B/AGRI/IC/2007_043: 109pGoogle Scholar
  16. Gac A, Cariolle M, Deltour L, Dollé JB, Espagnol S, Flénet F et al (2011) GES’TIM – des apports pour l’évaluation environnementale des activités agricoles. Innovations Agronomiques 17:83–94Google Scholar
  17. Lasseur J (2008) What means adapting to wolf reappearance for sheep farmers in French Southern Alps? Book of abstracts of the 59th annual meeting of the European Association for Animal Production{1D097F8C-9D8A-40FD-A1D0-87ACD256FB50 Accessed July 2018: 7p
  18. Mottet A, de Haan C, Falcucci A, Tempio G, Opio C, Gerber P (2017) Livestock: on our plates or eating at our table? A new analysis of the feed/food debate. Glob Food Sec 14:1–8. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. O’Rourke E, Charbonneau M, Poinsot Y (2016) High nature value mountain farming systems in Europe: case studies from the Atlantic Pyrenees, France and the Kerry Uplands, Ireland. J Rural Stud 46:47–59. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. OECD (2015) OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2015. Editions OECD, Paris 159pCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Prache S (2014) Advances, issues and challenges in organic lamb meat quality. In: S Bellon & S Penvern (eds) Organic farming, prototype for sustainable agricultures. Chapter 17: 313-324Google Scholar
  22. Ripoll-Bosch R, Joy M, Bernues A (2014) Role of self-sufficiency, productivity and diversification on the economic sustainability of farming systems with autochthonous sheep breeds in less favoured areas in Southern Europe. Animal 8(8):1229–1237. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Rossi R (2017) The sheep and goat sector in the EU Main features, challenges and prospects. European Parliamentary Research Service: 8pGoogle Scholar
  24. Royer JY (1988) Le journal de Noé de Barras, un entrepreneux de transhumance au XVe siécle. Les Alpes de lumière 98: 75pGoogle Scholar
  25. Ryschawy J, Dumont B, Therond O, Donnars C, Hendrickson J, Benoit M, Duru M (2019) Review: an integrated graphical tool for analysing impacts and services provided by livestock farming. Animal 13(8): in press. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Vermorel M, Jouany JP, Eugène M, Sauvant D, Noblet J, Dourmad JY (2008) Evaluation quantitative des émissions de méthane entérique par les animaux d’élevage en 2007 en France. INRA Prod Anim 21(5):403–418Google Scholar
  27. Vigan A, Lasseur J, Benoit M, Mouillot F, Eugène M, Mansard L, Vigne M, Lecomte P, Dutilly C (2017) Evaluating livestock mobility as a strategy for climate change mitigation: combining models to address the specificities of pastoral systems. Agric Ecosyst Environ 242:89–101. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Watson CA, Atkinson D (1999) Using nitrogen budgets to indicate nitrogen use efficiency and losses from whole farm systems: a comparison of three methodological approaches. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 53:259–267CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Wilkinson JM (2011) Re-defining efficiency of feed use by livestock. Animal 5(7):1014–1022. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© INRA and Springer-Verlag France SAS, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Université Clermont Auvergne, INRA, VetAgro Sup, UMR HerbivoresSaint-Genès-ChampanelleFrance
  2. 2.INRA UR 767 EcodeveloppementAvignonFrance
  3. 3.INRA UMR SelmetMontpellierFrance
  4. 4.Teagasc, Mellows CampusAthenryIreland

Personalised recommendations