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The Welfare Implications of Shepherding During Lambing in Extensive New Zealand Farming Systems

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A review of the literature was undertaken to consider the possible effects of human intervention (shepherding) at around the time of parturition in extensively farmed sheep. There is little clear empirical evidence to suggest that shepherding ensures either easy births or the integrity of ewe-lamb contact–factors closely linked to the welfare of the animals at this time. There is Similarly no clear support for shepherding being harmful. However, the following suggestions are made: first, human presence can inhibit or delay parturition; second, extended parturition can increase the risk oj, or is associated with, dystocia; and third, disturbance at birth can compromise ewe-lamb bonding and consequently lamb survival. Furthermore, sheep populations that have undergone rigorous selection for ease of lambing and minimal shepherding in extensive environments have well-documented physical and behavioural traits underlying their predisposition for enhanced lamb survival. Although our cultural legacy may impose a duty to intensively monitor animals at lambing, it is concluded that, at least in some situations, shepherding may not be entirely beneficial. The commonly held view of the necessity for some human intervention in extensive livestock systems is perhaps overly paternalistic, and requires a more comprehensive appraisal.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 May 2002

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