Download the SusSheP factsheet pdf

Sustainable sheep production 

The overall aim of SusSheP is to increase the economic competitiveness and sociable acceptability of sheep farming while reducing its environmental impact.  The specific research questions are:

  1. What factors control ewe longevity, are these heritable and can we develop new genetic tools or protocols to select for healthier and longer living sheep?
  2. Which sheep production systems (SPSs) are the most efficient in terms of labour input and carbon emissions?
  3. Can we develop a more sociable acceptable method of artificial insemination (AI) for sheep by understanding differences between ewe breeds in cervical biology and sperm transport?
  4. What are the key factors influencing farmer’s attitudes to change?

SusSheP utilises a range of research methods. It uses existing databases in Ireland, UK and Norway to identify early life predictors of ewe longevity and to calculate heritabilities on key traits. On-farm labour as well as farm input/output data have been collected and modelled for varying SPSs, and this data will be used to complete a carbon hoofprint and life cycle assessment of each system. Surveys will be used to identify farmers views on alternative SPSs. Detailed characterisation of cervical tissue and its secretions (Genes, Proteins and Gycans) of six ewe breeds (across Ireland, France, Norway), known to have divergent fertility following cervical AI with frozen-thawed semen is ongoing.        

The main reasons for involuntary culling is tooth loss in the UK while it is mastitis in Ireland and Norway. Sheep production systems which adopt precision livestock farming (PLF) practices resulted in improved efficiency in labour but not in carbon hoofprint. In contrast, implementing high genetic gain through breeding, tends to increase labour but greatly reduces carbon hoofprint. Size or gross morphology of the cervix does not explain ewe breed differences in sperm transport (or pregnancy rates). While mucus production varies with stage of the oestrus cycle, irrespective of whether exogenous hormones are used to synchronise oestrus, there are no clear biological patterns relating mucus volume, colour or viscosity, to ewe breed differences in sperm transport across the cervix. The biology of the cervix and its secretions will now be characterised at the molecular level.  

Recording labour on varying sheep production systems has been a useful exercise, especially for farmers. For example, looking at the various tasks conducted during lambing has allowed some farmers to change their management practices (e.g. modifying layout of fences). Farmers were also keen to know how other farmers are conducting their everyday practices, to be better informed and potentially adapt or change their own practices. For instance, the French farmers were very interested to know how the Norwegian farmers conduct their AI. Likewise, initial information from the carbon hoofprint has led some farmers to start questioning their actual management practices. Labour efficiency using PLF has also raised great interest in the farming community (and perhaps dispelled some misconceived ideas) and has stimulated farmers to consider the scale of investment needed to implement such technologies.

Messages to:

A) Actors from private sector

  • Identifying molecules influencing cervical sperm transport opens the opportunity to modifying semen diluents accordingly.
  • Understanding farmer’s attitudes to change is key to implementing new technologies.

B) Civil society and practitioners organisations

  • Breeding for health traits will result in reduced involuntary culling and longer living sheep.
  • Carbon hoofprint is a useful tool to capture the potential impact on the environment

C) Policy makers

  • On-farm efficiencies can dilute carbon emissions of each kg of sheep meat produced.
  • Developing cervical AI in sheep is central to across flock performance testing and genetic gain in economically and socially important traits in the European sheep flock.

Knowledge products:

Knowledge networks:

SusSheP is linked to the Farm Animal Breeding and Reproduction Technology Platform (FABRE-TP - which reaches more than 1200 members. SusSheP has also developed relationships with other National and EU projects including Ram Compare in the UK (, the EU project iSAGE ( and the EU H2020 Thematic Network SheepNet ( SusSheP is one of the EU funded projects who is co-organising a dedicated session at the EAAP in August 2019. SusShep is also active on Twitter


Coordinated by: Dr. Sean Fair - University of Limerick (IRELAND) - Contact

Funded by: DAFM/Teagasc, ANR, RNC, Maternal Sheep Group and DEFRA as part of the ERA-NET Cofund SusAn through a virtual common pot model including EU Top-Up funding from the European Union´s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no 696231)

4 research partners:

  • FRANCE: Institut National de Recherche Agronomique
  • IRELAND: Sheep Ireland and Teagasc
  • NORWAY: The Norwegian Association of Sheep and Goat Breeders and Norwegian University of Life Science
  • UNITED KINGDOM: Scotland’s Rural College and Maternal Sheep Group


More information