Lambing late and selling in the glut period may be considered an easy option. But when all but 30 have gone by 25 December, it makes sense not to change.
Husband and wife team Bryan and Liz Griffiths finish 94% of their 1350 lambs at E, U and R 2 and 3L grades by maximising summer grass growth, controlling parasites and managing stocking rates.
Running 800 predominantly Suffolk-cross ewes put to tight-woolled Charollais tups, flock performance is averaging 169% lambs sold, with all but 30 gone by 25 December.
“Ewes are winter-shorn and housed in January and lambing starts at the end of March,” says Mr Griffiths. “With late lambing, we have to guarantee grazing, as the system depends on being able to finish stock in summer. Some might say, we have taken the easy option by lambing late and selling in the glut period. It’s simple, but it’s working, so why change?”
Ewes are fed an 18% protein cake for six weeks before lambing, at about £4.50 a head. “When the flock is brought in, we vaccinate against footrot and ewes are then run through a footbath once a week, containing either zinc sulphate or formalin during housing to control scald,” he adds.
Post-lambing, ewes are drenched at turnout, which Mr Griffiths believes takes the sting out of the spring parasite burden. Lambs are then drenched in the third week of May and, after weaning, go on an appropriate drenching programme to ensure they are in the best condition for weight gain.
A strict worm control protocol is crucial at Southcott Farm, Umberleigh. “With breeding stock, we try to build a level of immunity for parasites and employ a relatively heavy stocking density of five couples an acre.” By measuring faecal egg counts, alongside knowledge of pastures and worm cycles, worm burden is kept low while avoiding a build-up of resistance to wormers.
On 130ha (320 acres), the flock is run alongside 80 finishing cattle, kept mostly to tidy up grazing for the sheep enterprise. “Because of different feeding habits, cattle work well in conjunction with sheep and mixed stocking is particularly important for worm control.”
Cattle are rotated to clean up pasture that has progressed too far for sheep grazing. And although beef finishing is uncertain in terms of profitability, Mr Griffiths is reluctant to get rid of the cattle because oftheir value as a management tool.
“Old habits die hard and to a certain extent, our mixed sheep and beef enterprise is a hangover from the old production subsidy. We could replace 80 head of cattle with 200 sheep, but we believe in terms of both parasite and forage management this may be detrimental to the enterprise as a whole.”
Silage is usually cut in June, although this year’s weather has resulted in cuts dragging on interminably. Grassland comprises predominantly permanent pasture, with a small amount of stitched-in clover. “We occasionally grow a catch crop of roots before reseeding, but mostly manage grassland in a way that doesn’t require high inputs.
“Two weeks after cutting, ewes and lambs go on to aftermath, after which we draw out 50% of ewes. A week later, we draw the other half, in effect taking ewes from lambs rather than the other way round, in a bid to minimise weaning check and reduce lamb stress.”
It is not until after weaning that lambs receive supplementary feed and even then only the finishing group is fed. “We draw groups of lambs corresponding to size and they receive 0.5kg a day of 16% protein creep, fed in troughs.
“The way to get a small lamb to thrive is to get rid of the big ones,” reckons Mr Griffiths. Once a fortnight, the next group is drawn to join the finishing group, so a constant number of lambs reach finishing grades collectively.
“By continually drawing lambs into the finishing group we are pushing the smaller lambs to meet their potential. As numbers decrease, smaller animals get easier access to feed, rather than larger animals getting most of the ration.
“We look to sell at 42kg liveweight and weigh weekly, writing down weights and carcass comments.”
And to see if on-farm grading and weighing correlates with that of the slaughterhouse, several times a year Mr Griffiths asks for individual ear-tags to be read at the abattoir and recorded on the kill sheet. “We have recorded for the past 10 years and find it a useful tool in measuring efficiency.”