Researchers from NMBU and NIBIO teamed up with the Norwegian and Australian meat industries to compare the farm profitability of two Norwegian sheep breeds.
The impact of ewe body weight, housing capacity, and meat produced per unit of concentrate were analysed to compare the farm profitability of the Norwegian White and the Norwegian Spæl breeds of sheep.
Heavier Norwegian White breed dominates the Norwegian sheep industry
The form, structure and productive aspects of Norwegian sheep have developed over time and adapted to the diverse Norwegian environment. Before 1900, native Norwegian sheep were crossed with UK breeds to attain higher body weight and reproductive efficiency. Subsequent selection programs eventually led to the creation of the heavier Norwegian White Sheep, which has an adult bodyweight of more than 90 kg. Today, this sheep breed constitutes 70% of the recorded ewes.
Smaller Norwegian Spæl better adapted to coastal and fjord areas
The modern Norwegian Spæl sheep usually weighs less than 75 kg and accounts for 10% of the recorded ewe population. This sheep breed originated from the native short-tailed breeds that are smaller and are believed to prefer grazing at higher altitudes than the Norwegian White.
Rugged Norwegian terrain with rich summer pastures makes the Norwegian Spæl sheep a complementary breed to the Norwegian White. Increasing demand for year-round fresh meat requires changes in sheep-farming. Efficient use of local feed resources via extensive feeding of smaller ewes is an opportunity for economic gains and for year-round fresh meat production.
The lighter Norwegian Spæl requires less housing space and is efficient in grazing rangeland and local pastures. The breed is also better suited to outdoor winter grazing in coastal and fjord areas.
Maintenance of open landscapes and biodiversity in addition to higher profitability
The team concluded that increased use of the Norwegian Spæl or similar breeds might be a way forward, particularly in Norway's coastal and fjord areas, when used either as a substitute or complementary to the Norwegian white sheep .
The study showed that the overwintering of Norwegian white lambs benefits the maintenance of open landscapes and biodiversity, in addition to providing higher profitability.
The team advised that consumers should be made aware of the eating quality of older sheep (hoggets) in order to increase its marketability. In addition, the breeding life of ewes should be prolonged where possible to increase the offtake of lamb or hogget meat per ewe, to keep the cost of recruitment to a minimum.
Declining meat consumption in Norway
In a situation with declining meat consumption in the country, a transfer to a system based on more Norwegian Spæl sheep, grazing with less use of concentrates and greater adoption of a grass-fed production system may be a sustainable and consumer-appreciated way forward.
Read the article in Sustainability (open access):
Management strategies to improve the economics of sheep farms in Norwegian coastal and fjord areas—The effect of animal size and capacities for rangeland utilisation
By Muhammad A. Bhatti, Lars Olav Eik, Geir Steinheim, Tormod Ådnøy, David L. Hopkins & Leif Jarle Asheim