AFBI Sustainable Sheep Production Research Platform

Genetics | Reproduction | Behaviour | Nutrition | Health & Welfare | Productivity | Food Integrity | Environmental Impact

Optimising production efficiency by improving animal health and performance.

In partnership with


A major component of the AFBI Sustainable Sheep Production Research Platform is a research programme to improve production efficiency through enhancing animal health and performance. An additional research area aims to improve environmental sustainability by minimising the impacts of sheep production on the environment. Researchers are developing and evaluating the effects of different management strategies to promote biodiversity and limit the emissions of greenhouse gases.

The livestock team also collaborate closely with food scientists at AFBI to ensure that consumer satisfaction and expectations are not compromised though novel production methods. Studies utilise the AFBI 300+ sheep flock and most work is also evaluated at a number of commercial farms across Northern Ireland, in collaboration with co-research farmers from both lowland and upland production systems. State of the art facilities at AFBI Hillsborough enable studies to quantify greenhouse gas emissions from sheep production systems and quantify the effects of mitigation strategies.

Key research expertise

AFBI’s comprehensive research programme additionally provides the opportunity to monitor and analyse a wide range of data, including animal performance, grazing behaviour, health and welfare and product quality. In summary, areas of expertise include:

  • Effect of genetic and environmental factors on animal performance
  • Energy and nutrient use efficiency
  • Greenhouse gas emissions and the effects of mitigation strategies at farm and animal levels
  • Management strategies to promote biodiversity and other ecosystem services
  • Health (notably in terms of internal and external parasite infections), welfare and product quality

Principle features

  • AFBI sheep flock – 320 breeding ewes and several ram breeds depending on research needs
  • Group and individual pens for winter housing, indoor lambing and feeding/welfare studies
  • Unique set up of six individual calorimetric chambers for metabolism and greenhouse gas studies (including CH4, CO2, NH3, N2O)
  • UK-first individual feed box and water intake system with integrated live weight assessment, suitable for a range of lifestages and diets
  • Mobile DEXA scanner assessing carcass quality and bone density
  • Access to a network of hill and lowland commercial farms, where management strategies can be applied and monitored consistently across farms
  • On site feed mill for the production of specialist diets


Improved understanding of ruminant metabolism leading to better rationing systems and the increased efficiency of feed conversion to lamb production. Development of new feed products and phenotypes for genetic improvement. Reduced greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions for livestock systems.

Supporting the Grand Challenges facing livestock food production:

Climate Smart Food Systems

Resource Efficiency & Precision Nutrition

Health & Welfare Management

Sheep Nutrition and Metabolism Unit

This bespoke CIEL-funded facility enables the assessment of individual dietary intake of forage, concentrates and water within a group feeding environment complete with automated in-pen weighing of livestock.

The facility is partnered with six cutting-edge individual metabolism chambers enabling detailed investigations into the impact of genetics, diet and management factors on nutrient and energy utilisation efficiency and gaseous emissions – a unique platform for investigating the role and impact of the microbiome in livestock production.

AFBI Sustainable Sheep Production Research Platform | CIEL