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Production systems

Sheep production in Uruguay must be considered in the context of mixed livestock production systems since there are virtually no farms engaged exclusively in the production of sheep. Most of the livestock farms are mixed, running both beef cattle and sheep. There are approximately 20.000 farms with sheep, but in most of them the income from sheep is only a minor proportion of total income. Those more dependant on sheep meat and wool income are, in general, of smaller sizes and located on less-fertile soils where more profitable activities are not possible.

Most sheep flocks are self replacing, with breeding ewes and replacements being the most important categories. The declining proportion of wethers (mainly of fine-wool producing breeds) is now close to 10% of the overall sheep population. Autumn mating and spring lambing is the most common practice in order to match sheep requirements with pasture production.

Typical commercial sheep production systems are low-input enterprises and are based on the direct utilization of native pastures. Therefore, wool production and reproductive rates are closely dependent of weather conditions throughout the year. In general, on a national level, nutrition is the main factor limiting increases in production per head and stocking rates. The average percentage of lambs weaned per ewe joined varies between 70% and 85% with significant variation between years due to changing climatic conditions. However, many farmers who have adopted good management practices, consistently wean above 100%.

Wool has been the main product of these production systems but in recent years -due to higher meat prices- the importance of sheep meat (mainly lambs) has increased. Fat lambs are finished on improved pastures for slaughter with carcass weights between 17-20 kg and 6-11 months of age. For the moment these lambs are produced from the existing dual-purpose systems and basically there is no specialization of farms to particular production such as fat lambs, or the production of cross-bred ewes, to be used in cross-breeding systems for the production of meat.




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