By Jonathan Long and Jeremy Hunt

WITH SUPERMARKETS yet to commit to buying large numbers of spring-born lambs, producers may be tempted to slow down growth rates and hold lambs for prices to increase.

But that would be a mistake, as once a lamb has been checked it will never grow as well again, reckons Devon-based Promar consultant Rob Shields. “Once these early lambs are growing they should be pushed on to finish as soon as possible.”

Key to making sure these lambs keep growing is a plentiful supply of feed, whether they are relying on grass or creep for the bulk of their intake, he says. “In the south west, many farms are short of grass, so keeping creep feeders full is essential.

“Creep feeds should be high in protein, at least 18% and should contain good quality protein, avoiding too much rapeseed meal or citrus pulp. Additionally, feeders should be kept clean, close to water and moved regularly.”

Mr Shields says many early lambing flocks are seeing fewer lambs being sold now hitting spec with many grading in fat class 3H instead of 3L. “These lambs are gaining finish before frame, so regular assessment of finish is paramount.”

Kingsbridge-based producer David Rossiter says lambs at about 25-30kg are getting little sustenance from their mothers, so the emphasis must be on maintaining intakes through grass or creep feed.

“The worst thing is allowing a lamb”s growth to check as it reaches a saleable weight. You”ve got to stick with the feeding you”ve already started and take the price available.”

Mr Rossiter believes more early lamb flocks should investigate the benefits offered by a fixed price contract.

“This way you know how much you”ll be paid before you produce them. Then you can work out the production costs and find ways of reducing them before committing to the system.”

To keep lambs growing, Staffs producers Ian and Andrew Wilson turn out on to clean grass and move ewes and lambs every 10 days to keep a clean bite in front of them.

“Ewes are fed plenty of sugar beet to maintain milk production and ewes and lambs go onto first and second year seeds that haven”t been grazed for at least six weeks to provide clean pasture.”

This father and son team started lambing 40 Charollais-cross and Texel-cross ewes on Jan 1 and sold their first lambs last week weighing 39kg and realising 2.40p/kg (93).

Although early lambing flocks have had to contend with a wide range of weather conditions since Christmas, the recent warm spell increases risks of nematodirus, says independent sheep consultant Lesley Stubbings.

“Worming lambs is not standard management practice for early lambing flocks because there should be no challenge. But lambs scouring or looking off-colour are the first signs of a nematodirus problem. Urgent treatment with a white drench is essential,” says Ms Stubbings.

Early born lambs should now be past the coccidiosis risk, but the warm spell has kick-started grass growth in many areas. “Lambs suddenly filling up on new spring grass need to be kept an eye on too. Its important management standards are maintained post-Easter to keep lambs healthy to ensure maximum growth rates are maintained.”

jonathan.long@rbi.co.uk