Ovine Observer

Ovine Observer survey results

George Lorenzen, DPIRD, Katanning, WA
Author correspondence:


The Ovine Observer is a quarterly newsletter first published by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development in 1990. Each quarter the Ovine Observer features current sheep based research from predominantly Western Australian (WA) researchers.

A total of 1255 producers and other industry professionals subscribe with approximately half receiving the newsletter electronically and half receiving hard copies.

As the research featured is tailored to the needs of the WA sheep industry most readers are WA based, however there are a number of interstate subscribers.

Periodically readers are surveyed to ensure the Ovine Observer meets the needs of the readers and continues to plays a valuable role in the sheep industry in WA and across Australia. The October 2018 and January 2019 editions of the Ovine Observer included a survey link for electronic readers and a paper based survey for readers of hard copies.

Eighty one readers responded to the survey, of which 16 (20%) responded online through the survey link and 65 (80%) responded using the paper based survey. As only WA producers receive hard copies this indicates that most of the responders were WA based.

Value of the Ovine Observer

One in five readers gave a perfect score when asked to rate how important the Ovine Observer is to their business, indicating that they find it very valuable. Overall two out of every three readers find the Ovine Observer valuable to their business.

Two readers indicated that they did not find the Ovine Observer valuable for their business at all as they no longer run sheep. Interestingly several readers indicated that while they no longer run sheep they still enjoy the publication.

Readership of the Ovine Observer

In 68% of households more than one family or business member reads the Ovine Observer. In households with more than one reader the most common number of readers was 2 and the highest number of readers was 5. The average number of readers per copy is 2.

While half of the Ovine Observer readers have elected to receive a hard copy and half have elected to receive an electronic copy, most survey responders answered using the paper based survey. Therefore it was not surprising that the majority of responders (68%) prefer receiving the Ovine Observer as a hard copy. Interestingly 7% of responders preferred receiving both a hard copy and an electronic copy and unsurprisingly reported a higher than average number of readers per copy.

Research areas of interest

Readers were asked an open ended response question about which topics have been of greatest interest in past editions of the Ovine Observer and generally listed several topics.  The four main topics mentioned were feed management, ewe reproduction, animal welfare and technological advances.

Almost half of the responders indicated that they had found articles on feeding and feed management valuable, particularly when relevant to the season or time of year the articles were published. The use and management of pastures in sheep production was highlighted and while historically pasture based articles have not been featured heavily survey feedback indicates sheep producers are keenly interested in pasture based research.

Similarly articles related to ewe management were mentioned by a third of readers.  Articles on the management of ewe reproduction and ewe maintenance were mentioned twice as often as other ewe management factors such as parasites or wool production.

Twenty percent of readers indicated an interest in articles on general animal welfare and twenty percent on technology including sensors and remote monitoring.  Interestingly very few readers mentioned wool production or wool quality parameters despite wool being a major part of the WA sheep industry. This is likely due to the relatively small number of wool related articles in recent years.  As wool research activity increases in WA a greater number of wool related articles will be included. 

Future focus of Ovine Observer articles

To tailor the Ovine Observer to the needs of the WA sheep industry readers were asked to rank the focus of future articles in several categories from most (1) to least (3) important (Table 1). The categories were pure research, applied/on-farm research, management based on new research, general management recommendations and industry snapshots.

Almost 80% of readers ranked applied/on-farm research as most important for the focus of future Ovine Observer articles with management based on new research and general management recommendations having the next highest percentage of number one ranking. Pure research and industry snap shots were consistently ranked as least important. These findings align with the purpose of the Ovine Observer to present industry applicable research and the resulting recommendations. While articles are limited by the types of research being conducted at the time, where possible applied research is showcased. The lower ranking of industry snapshots is not unexpected given these insights are available in a number of other DPIRD publications, and therefore not a key focus of the Ovine Observer.

Table 1 Percentage of readers who ranked each focus topic first, second or third in importance


Pure research



Management based on

new research

General management recommendations






















Overall the survey showed that the Ovine Observer is considered valuable to sheep businesses in WA, particularly as it can provide timely management recommendations with immediate and long-term benefit. Furthermore the impact is far reaching with each edition having multiple readers.

While the articles available to publish in the Ovine Observer are limited by the research occurring at the time, historically articles related to feeding, reproduction, welfare and technology were the topics of greatest interest to readers.