Farming Systems for Sheep Production and Their Effect on Welfare

  • R.J. Kilgour
  • T. Waterhouse
  • C.M. Dwyer
  • I.D. Ivanov
Part of the Animal Welfare book series (AWNS, volume 6)


Sheep are raised by humans all over the world for a variety of reasons and in many different management systems. In this chapter, we briefly describe the use of sheep worldwide. We then describe how the welfare of sheep is affected by human activity using three production systems as examples. The three systems chosen are extensively managed sheep raised for wool and meat production, intensive sheep dairying and traditional sheep raising in nomadic systems. The specific examples described are: sheep production in Australia, New Zealand and the British Isles, sheep dairying in Eastern Europe and nomadic pastoralism in Africa and Asia. Under the extensive systems, sheep have the capacity to express the full range of their natural behaviours, although some aspects of their normal social organisation are disrupted. These disruptions include weaning earlier than would occur naturally, segregation of sheep on the basis of age and sex and various husbandry operations, which can cause pain or stress. The main potential source of welfare problems for sheep under these systems come from their interactions with man, which are usually stressful and aversive. Sheep dairying is traditionally pasture-based, often includes a suckling period in addition to milking, and is considerably less intensive in comparison to dairy cattle. However, recent intensification in some countries has resulted in fully housed systems, which have dispensed with a suckling period. In these systems welfare challenges arise from the early weaning of lambs and interactions with the milking machine or handler that can be a source of stress. The potential for increased disease risks in intensive systems may also cause welfare problems. Under the conditions of traditional nomadic pastoralism sheep are perceived as a valuable resource and a feature of this system is the close contact between sheep and their human carers, since sheep are herded during the day and housed at night, often in the main dwelling. Under these systems, however, there is a high degree of unpredictability in the climate, herbage availability and disease risk. These have the potential to create catastrophic welfare problems for both the sheep and their human carers. A diverse range of sheep breeds are managed in the different systems described here, and by working with the adaptations of these breeds generally all the systems have the capacity to provide good welfare for the animals kept within them, provided that adequate resources (e.g. supplementary feed, labour) can be given when required. However, some systems (e.g. some in Australia) face exceptional climatic conditions that may make it difficult to maintain good welfare at particular times of the year, without very significant inputs.


Sheep farming systems Extensive Dairy Nomadic Human-animal relationship Mortality Welfare 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • R.J. Kilgour
    • 1
  • T. Waterhouse
  • C.M. Dwyer
  • I.D. Ivanov
  1. 1.NSW Department of Primary IndustriesAgricultural Research CentreTrangieAustralia

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