A wet winter and cold spring have meant grass is slow in coming, leaving many sheep farmers unsure how to continue feeding.

With lamb prices set to be promising this year and poor grass levels adding to the feed price problem, cutting back on concentrates could leave flocks worse off.

Lamb creep is at frightening costs, says Kate Phillips, ADAS livestock consultant. “Although costs are high farmers must ‘bite the bullet’ and invest in feed.

“Reducing concentrates when there simply isn’t enough grass to support ewes and lambs will mean reduced milk yield and lambs failing to grow as well. With market prices looking promising, farmers don’t want to be finishing late.

No cheap alternatives

“Long forage, hay and any available fodder beet could aid the situation, but there are no cheap alternatives. Rule of thumb is until grass height is more than 4cm, ewes’ diet should be supplemented by 0.5kg of concentrates per lamb. Once the grass length has exceeded 4cm a magnesium supplement maybe required,” explains Ms Phillips.

Organic farmer Marcus Maxwell, Dumfries, has been using pasture that has been shut up since September to graze his twins. However, this is only enough to last 10 days, says Mr Maxwell.

“With grass running low and organic feed at £360/t these are worrying times. Silage and straw levels are low, so I have no other alternative than to rely on sheep’s body reserves while supplementing with concentrates to maximise lamb growth.

Effect

Shropshire-based farmer John Parry also stresses the effect lack of grass is having on flock management. “Fertiliser prices are high and this combined with high feed cost is having crippling effects.

“My approach to the situation has been reducing stocking density in fields to maximise feed from grass. Not creep-feeding lambs has led to an early check on growth, so now I’m having to feed them extra and move them to slightly better grass.”

Vet Matt Coulston emphasises if ewes are fed inadequately, then body condition and milk yield will reduce and ewes are likely to wean early. “The most profitable lambs are those sold finished from their mother, not those playing catch-up.

Mr Coulston also highlights the effect short swards could have on levels of coccidiosis and worm counts. “If a warm spell was to arrive pasture contamination levels could be high. Farmers should regularly be changing their feeding spots to reduce risk of contamination.

Worm resistance

“Short grass levels mean sheep are more likely to ingest worm eggs. But, if regular monitoring of worm egg counts on lambs four weeks of age is done then sheep can be wormed as soon as an infestation is detected.

“Not enough farmers take faecal samples for worm egg counts. Those who routinely worm are throwing money down the drain and increasing chances of worm resistance.”

Only 10 samples are needed for each group of lambs and for each batch analysis would cost no more than £25, explains Mr Coulston.

“With the cost of feed rising and lack of grass it is important costs can be cut elsewhere. One way is to stop routine worming and to start faecal egg sampling.”