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Sharing Expertise and Experience towards sheep Productivity through NETworking

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - SheepNet (Sharing Expertise and Experience towards sheep Productivity through NETworking)

Reporting period: 2018-05-01 to 2019-10-31

"The EU is only 85% self-sufficient in sheep meat and an increase in EU ewe productivity by 0.1 lambs reared per ewe joined would increase self-sufficiency to 92%. However, solutions for many issues which negatively impact sheep productivity do exist. Thus the purpose of SheepNet, a thematic network involving the 6 main EU sheep producing countries and Turkey, is to share these solutions by creating a network between scientists and stakeholders across the EU. Therefore, SheepNet aims to:
• produce a scientific, technical and practical knowledge reservoir through a combined ""top-down and bottom-up"" approach and the involvement of 45 innovative farms to demonstrate best practice;
• foster cross-fertilization of ideas through multi-actor workshops at national and international levels, and a broad and interactive participation of the ""sheep community"" in developing solutions and discussion via social networks;
• develop an easily understandable support package of communication and learning material, web-based tools, an interactive platform, and strong interactions with the EIP AGRI Service Point to guarantee long-lasting and wide accessibility of the SheepNet results.
To achieve these aims SheepNet is organised around one network facilitator (NF) in each partner country. Each NF leads the implementation of SheepNet tasks in their own country with the support of a Scientific and Technical Working Group (STWG) and a Sheep-AKIS composed of stakeholders (see Figure “Sheepnet Organization”). The involvement of stakeholders in the Sheep-AKIS is based on existing networks such as Operational Groups, breed societies, levy boards and other networks. Integration of these different networks at an EU level is achieved by translation of materials between the different countries and direct and facilitated communication and visits between all members of the Sheep-AKIS at international meetings.
The success of SheepNet lies in active participation of stakeholders, and that each country performs each task in the same way and at the same time. SheepNet is organised with a clear schedule of tasks and meetings at national and EU level to facilitate this.

For each of the participating countries in SheepNet a Sheep-AKIS has been created. At the beginning of the project, each NF has been trained to use participative approaches to facilitate national meetings within the Sheep AKIS, to ensure a common approach in each country, and to engage stakeholders in all aspects of the work. Then, an online survey to identify the key end-user needs and concerns relating to sheep productivity has been conducted. This elicited 794 usable responses, 60% of whom were farmers, shepherds or farm workers. This has been reinforced in the active participation of stakeholders in the 3 national and 2 international workshops that have been conducted so far. National workshops have addressed national needs for information on sheep productivity, proposed and evaluated existing solutions and shared bottom-up practical ‘tips and tricks’ designed to facilitate easier and more efficient, effective and productive sheep management. International workshops have involved the participation of all levels of the Sheep AKIKS from each country (farmers, veterinaries, advisors, consultants and scientists) and includes translation of materials into each of the SheepNet languages, farm visits and interactive workshops to share solutions and practical responses. The success and value of this process has been recognised in the additional participation of other countries (Hungary, Portugal and Germany), and the voluntary participation of some farmers and stakeholders at their own expense. This bottom-up approach has been married to a top-down approach, which involves an evaluation of the scientific literature to identify solutions that can be transferred to stakeholders and areas where research information is lacking but where a need has been identified. Scientific briefing papers have been prepared, translated and disseminated to provide background information on the three main areas of SheepNet activity: efficient reproduction, efficient gestation and improved lamb survival. Using the information from the online survey, and activities in the first 2 national workshops, a list of 69 additional needs for information have been identified, and factsheets to disseminate solutions for some of these questions are in progress. These will use a variety of communication methods to disseminate information depending on the target audience, and the type of material to be disseminated (e.g. knowledge, practical know-how etc). This has been informed by a survey of end users, where information regarding their preferred method of communication was also collected, coupled with a workshop at EAAP in collaboration with iSAGE, and a trip to Australia and New Zealand to share knowledge and experiences in communication.
SheepNet has also developed a Sheep Community Platform ( where all the information gathered in the course of the project is disseminated in 6 languages, a YouTube channel (SheepNet EU) and a Facebook site (@SheepNetEU), and a Twitter account (@SheepNetEU), and a group in Linkedin (Sheepnet). In addition, communication has been achieved via newsletters, press releases and presentations at national sheep events (167 actions).
The first half of the SheepNet project has been about the development of a strong, dynamic and interactive network of stakeholders across the diverse countries and sheep production systems of the participating countries. This has involved the learning lessons about how to manage the multi-actor approach and to engage participants in workshops and activities. In particular, part of the developments of the project has been dealing with the 6 different languages and the needs for translation of all the material generated and over-coming language barriers to allow full participation in transnational workshops for all stakeholders. This has been a steep learning curve but the SheepNet project has managed to hold onto the ethos of engaging fully with end-users and the benefits that accrue from allowing their participation in overseas trips and workshops.
Having invested time and energy in ensuring the network established in the project is functioning well we are now in an excellent position to maximise the potential of the network, and to expand it to other countries and regions who are now aware of this work (e.g. the participation of delegates from Hungary, Portugal and Germany who have attended meetings at their own expense and are voluntarily running similar workshops and data collection as the SheepNet participants; established excellent connections with iSAGE, and with researchers in New Zealand and Australia ; interest in developments from scientists in Canada and Brazil). In addition, we have learned from our stakeholders about their perception of the difficulties faced by the industry, and where they most require further information. Further, we are also now aware of their preferred formats for delivery of this information which will inform communication strategies for the remainder of the project.
Diagram presenting the different levels of the SHEEPNET network
Logo of the SheepNet project