The Scott family is bracing itself for a hectic few weeks as lambing gets nearer. Carol McLaren reports
During this month the Scott family, and their flock manager Steve Lewis, will lamb 1114 sheep, starting with their pedigree Texel and Beltex ewes on 15 March.
The main commercial flock begins a week later, and a tight tupping period means the Scotts expect 240 to lamb in the first week. The Lleyns and Cheviots will lamb from 1 April.
There are 300 extra commercial ewes in the Fearn flock this year and scanning put lamb numbers well ahead.
Finished lambs are the mainstay of the farm and John finds producing a really good slaughter lamb hugely rewarding. “When you’ve taken the time to lamb them, finish them and then draw 60% in E and U grades, the job satisfaction is great.”
The majority of finished lambs are sold to Mey Selections, the North Highland beef and lamb brand launched by Prince Charles last year.
John admits the sheep system is a complicated one but, when the family employed Mr Lewis last summer, they were keen to try different options to build an easily managed flock producing top quality lambs.
“There is a strong argument for us to simply run a flock of Mules with Texel or Beltex tups and buy in replacements every year,” says John. “But our lambs are grading well and if we can improve the prolificacy of the continental-cross commercial ewes a little more, we will be happy.”
As lambing time looms, a key priority this year will be to reduce mortality and monitor and record losses. Lamb mortality last year was far too high, at 18%, largely due to bad weather at lambing and problems such as mastitis, coccidiosis and pneumonia.
From this year, ewes which have problems lambing will be black-tagged and sold. A similarly tough approach will be adopted for ewes with foot problems.
All ewes will receive an 18% protein ration from eight weeks before lambing. Mothers of single lambs start on 100g/day working up to 200g. Those with twins start on 250g/day, moving up to 600g four weeks before lambing. Ewes with triplets receive 250g/day straight after scanning, rising to 500g/day.
Local feed company MD Grain & Feed produces the ration, blending the Scotts’ home-grown peas and barley with soya, sugar beet, distillers grains and Amino Breeding Ewe protein concentrate from Norvite.
The commercial flock was shorn on 15 January, allowing Mr Lewis to increase indoor ewe numbers and keep them cleaner, and making it easier for him to spot ewes ready to lamb.
Accurate scanning results allow the Scotts to maximise feed efficiency and ensure as many ewes as possible run with twins, through promptly fostering triplets on to new mothers.
To combat joint ill, newborn lambs will be treated twice with iodine. The pedigree lambs get an antibiotic injection at birth and all lambs are given Spectam oral antibiotic against watery mouth.
Before being turned out to grass at a stocking rate of 4.5-5 ewes per acre, the mothers will be wormed and the male lambs castrated and vaccinated against orf. Strong, female lambs born without assistance and up and sucking unaided will be ear-marked as possible replacements.
Three additional staff will assist with lambing – two students and a local night lamber, who will also keep an eye on the calving cows.
“At night, there are no people, machinery and other distractions so you get a chance to pick up on a lot more problems than you do in the day,” Mr Lewis says.
The number of staff might seem excessive, says John, but with his mother, Janet, recovering from an operation and John and his father heavily committed elsewhere, he feels he is better safe than sorry.
- Commercial 189% (181% in 2006)
- Lleyns 213% (188%)
- Hoggs 92% (83%)