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Abstract

Sheep welfare is an emerging topic in research and food marketing, and recent studies suggest that farm labour is a key factor for both animal welfare and productivity in extensive sheep farming systems, although little research has been done into labour utilisation in these systems. This paper reports field data collection on two commercial farms and the use of a linear programming (LP) model to link labour economics and animal welfare analysis. The model maximises the number of ewes to clooked after over the lambing period, when constrained by labour availability for various key tasks and by a pre-determined level of sheep welfare. The results show a trade-off between welfare level and labour input per sheep. Dropping tasks with less significant welfare and productivity consequences is an effective way of increasing carrying capacity (from 977 ewes/shepherd to 1428), as is working longer hours (1174 ewes/shepherd) or only doing the legal minimum of welfare checking (labour reduced from 0.68 min/ewe to 0.44 min/ewe) . The field data suggest that farmers currently provide high welfare, and that, despite much time spent away from the flock (e.g. driving), they spend a large amount of time (39% of total) with their sheep.

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