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Inaugural NSA conference puts healthy animals at the centre of sustainable sheep production

26th October 2023

Delegates at the inaugural National Sheep Association (NSA) Sheep Farmers’ Conference were enthused for the healthy future of the sector yesterday (Wednesday 25th October) as leading industry names and highly respected farmers came together at the National Conference Centre, Birmingham, to discuss methods to measure, promote and improve flock health.

On bringing the Conference together NSA decided on an event theme that would identify and discuss a key factor of sustainable sheep production.

NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker says: “Sheep health, underpinned by quality genetics, nutrition, and effective management is fundamental to improving the performance of the UK sheep sector, without the need to change the fundamental nature of how we go about our business. Fine-tuning our businesses considering this will increase our productivity and profitability, reduce our environmental footprint, and lead to greater satisfaction and pride.”

Opening the event, NSA Trustee and Board Member of the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England, Charles Sercombe, reminded the audience that disease does not respect borders, reinforcing the need for a joined-up approach as a panel of government officials from the four UK nations updated on ongoing changes to farm policy relating to farm health.

The first seminar of the conference left attendees in agreement that healthy animals are the cornerstone to sustainable livestock production and that measurements of welfare were to become an increasingly important tool for farmers in the future to ensure this.

Introducing a new event format the conference then allowed delegates time to join modern, interactive workshops kindly supported by event sponsors, including major sponsor Shearwell Data. Varied tradestands provided further engagement for attendees before the next session of the day got underway.

Bringing delegates back together for a highly engaging and interactive discussion, AHDB acted as facilitators for the second session of the day with a panel of farmers speaking openly on their encounters facing and tackling health issues on farm.

All farmers shared their experiences in screening their flocks for disease with varied discoveries made including for some, devastating cases of Iceberg disease such as Ovine Pulmonary Adenocarcinoma (OPA). Discussion revealed a need for improved openness from farmers to each other to effectively tackle such critical issues to remove stigma associated with disease on farm and to encourage those in denial to stand up and take action to deal with it.

Farmer speakers Gwyn Johnson from Mid Glamorgan, Hayden Woolley from Shropshire and Lorraine Luescher from Aberdeenshire all highlighted that monitoring their flocks with the use of data and performance recording was as a key tool in helping them make informed decisions to help promote high health. Concluding the session Lorraine, who so frankly described her flock’s issues with OPA, welcomed events such as the NSA Sheep Farmers’ Conference in getting farmers talking about the important topic of disease and brought the session to a close.

The third and final seminar of the day welcomed well known names passing on their advice on where best to invest to improve health, welfare and productivity.

With the highly experienced panel of Sheep Vet Fiona Lovatt, Geneticist Janet Roden, and Farmer and Consultant Emily Grant passing on their vast knowledge delegates were able to complete their conference with key take home messages from which to build their flock’s health and production.

The seminar also allowed session Chair, Independent Beef and Sheep Consultant Liz Genever to emphasize the need for farmers to pause and reflect on their farms and careers giving themselves time to build self-awareness and ensure they remain fulfilled by their role as a sheep farmer. Something so critical as mental wellbeing is so frequently challenged.

NSA Chairman Dan Phipps drew the conference to a close. Looking back on a successful event he comments: “It was a fantastic day with everyone interacting so well to bring the best out of our engaging speakers. We look forward to building on the success of the event for future years as the conference is adopted into the NSA biennial calendar. Thanks to all those who attended and supported our inaugural conference from the sponsors to the speakers and of course the farmer delegates. We hope you all had a valuable and enjoyable day.”