Lamb survival a focus for researcher

Lamb survival a focus for researcher Amy Lockwood


Sheep
As a sheep researcher for Murdoch University, Amy Lockwood has been able to pursue her passion for agriculture with a focus on lamb survival.

As a sheep researcher for Murdoch University, Amy Lockwood has been able to pursue her passion for agriculture with a focus on lamb survival.

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This 25-year-old young gun is driven to make a difference in Australia’s sheep industry through her desire to remain in the research field of lamb survival.

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AMY Lockwood’s interest in agriculture and passion for lamb survival has led her to complete a PhD and join a sheep research team as a postdoctoral research fellow at Murdoch University.

Her PhD, awarded in March, investigated the effects of lambing density on lamb survival.

The 25-year-old young gun is driven to make a difference in Australia’s sheep industry through her desire to remain in the research field of lamb survival.

Growing up in Albany and having grandparents and friends who were farmers, Amy’s interest in agriculture was sown at an early age.

Prior to starting university, most of Amy’s exposure to agriculture centred around beef and cropping and to a lesser extent, sheep.

In the early stages of her studies Amy had her heart set on being a veterinarian, but was drawn to practical on-farm work where she developed a passion for lamb survival.

Amy started her research into this field with her honours project which involved supplementing ewes with vitamin D in late pregnancy to assess the immune function of lambs between birth and marking and lamb survival.

“That project sparked the passion I now have for lamb survival and working together with producers to improve reproductive performance,” Amy said.

“I enjoyed transferring the theoretical knowledge I’d learnt during my degree into the practical setting, collecting the data and then looking at our results.”

Amy’s PhD enabled her to delve even further into lamb survival research with the hope that she could help producers to improve lamb marking rates.

“The project involved looking at the effects of mob size and stocking rate at lambing on lamb survival,” she said.

“I also looked at the effects on ewe-lamb behaviour at the time of lambing to see if there was an association between mob size and the risk of mis-mothering and whether that contributed to poorer lamb survival.”

The national project that Amy was involved with as part of her PhD included 85 research sites across WA, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales which were funded by Australian Wool Innovation and Meat and Livestock Australia.

Amy and her fellow researchers found that higher mob sizes at lambing decreased the survival of twin-born lambs.

She said they are still yet to find evidence of stocking rate affecting lamb survival.

“It really seems to be the number of ewes in the mob that is driving the impact of lambing density on lamb survival, rather than their stocking rate,” Amy said.

“There is roughly a two per cent decrease in the survival of twin-born lambs per extra 100 twin-bearing ewes in the mob at lambing.

“This may not seem like a huge effect but it’s about achieving that extra 1 to 2pc improvement in lamb survival above that achieved through managing ewe nutrition as per Lifetime Ewe Management guidelines and optimising the allocation of resources to mobs at lambing.”

Tagging lambs at birth for an experiment as part of her PhD which researched the affect of mob size on ewe-lamb behaviour and lamb survival at The University of WA Future Farm, Pingelly.

Tagging lambs at birth for an experiment as part of her PhD which researched the affect of mob size on ewe-lamb behaviour and lamb survival at The University of WA Future Farm, Pingelly.

Still focussed on lamb survival research, Amy is involved in a project investigating whether supplementation of ewes during late pregnancy with vitamin D, vitamin E and selenium can improve lamb survival on-farm.

“The project kicked off this year with some sampling to determine the baseline levels of vitamin D, E and selenium in ewes across southern Australia during autumn and winter/spring, including differences in vitamin D associated with latitude,” she said.

“In the next couple of years we will be running on-farm trials to look at that impact of supplementation on lamb survival.”

Amy has also been kept busy with another project that aims to quantify foetal and lamb losses in ewe lambs and maiden hoggets, including any associations with infectious disease.

Although completing her PhD was a major achievement for Amy, both personally and professionally, she has an impressive track record for a young professional in agriculture.

“Through my PhD one of the greatest opportunities I had was to collaborate with other research teams and consultants within the industry across Australia and also in New Zealand,” she said.

“It was a privilege to have strong involvement in a national project at an early stage of my career and to build networks and relationships which have enabled me to work on other collaborative projects.”

Farm Weekly is not the first to recognise Amy as a ‘young gun’ in agriculture as earlier this year she was named as a finalist in the LambEx 2018 Young Guns Competition.

As part of the competition Amy presented the findings of her PhD.

“It was a great opportunity to present within that setting, but also to meet the other young guns and see what their thoughts were on key areas that could be improved in the industry,” Amy said.

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Even earlier in her career, Amy won the wool category of the Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in 2016.

This recognition saw her attend an Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences conference where she met other young scientists and industry professionals.

“It presented an opportunity to see what was happening in agriculture as a whole and also learn about the innovative ideas the other young scientists had put forward,” she said.

Choosing a career path can be a daunting process for a young person, but if there is one thing for an aspiring professional to take away from Amy’s story, it is to find your passion and follow it.

“Figure out what you are interested in – you might not find that until you are part way through your degree like me or maybe you don’t want to do a degree but there are so many opportunities in agriculture,” she said.

“As the saying goes ‘choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life’.

“I really enjoy what I do and I’m lucky to work together with a great team of researchers and producers to help improve on-farm productivity.”

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