The Scott family’s plans for a tight spring lambing have been thrown into disarray. The adventures of an amorous Lleyn tup lamb have meant John and his father James will have to lamb a second – unplanned for – mob of ewe lambs.
But despite the rash of extra work, lambing of the main commercial flock should be wound up by the last week in April.
The main commercial flock started lambing in mid-March and this year, for the first time in two decades, the Scotts had decided to outwinter their ewes, housing the majority just as they started lambing.
“At scanning, we split those carrying triplets from the rest, but I think next year we will look at also segregating the singles from the pairs. On reflection, I think we could have housed the thinner ewes and the triplets a little earlier and that’s something we’ll aim to do next year. We have had a few with toxaemia this time,” says John.
Scanning is an important management tool the Scotts would not consider by-passing. This year’s scanning revealed lambing percentages similar to last year’s at 185% for the commercial flock and 182% for the entire flock, including pedigree Texels and Beltex.
“One thing we did differently this year was that instead of keeling tups [paint marking] we split the ewes into early- and later-lambing batches at scanning and marked them accordingly. I’d say this has worked pretty well,” says John.
The daily ration for the outdoor ewes before lambing ranged from 0.5kg to 1kg of feed a day, depending on condition, with the thinner ewes and triplets on 1kg a day. They are also fed silage. The ration, formulated by Norvite, includes beet pulp, dark grains and barley. When housed, the ewes are on a similar ration, plus ammonia-treated barley straw and after lambing they continue to receive the main ration, along with turnips and silage.
Each ewe is put into a freshly bedded individual pen when she lambs and all lambs have their navels dipped at birth in a mixture of iodine and surgical spirit. Lambs also receive Spectam against scour and an injection of Vitenium, a vitamin E supplement.
“In the mornings I go round the pens and mark and band the lambs, then dose the ewes with Cydectin and vaccinate the lambs for orf,” says John.
“They then go out into loose pens where – depending on the weather – there can be up to 70 ewes.
“We are also using Ovipast Plus this year to try to prevent pneumonia which has been a real problem in recent years. And the ewes and lambs go out on to clean grass which hasn’t been grazed by sheep last year,” he says.
“Any ewes which gives us too much trouble, such as a difficult lambing or lack of milk, get black tagged and won’t be bred again. We introduced this system last year and I think it is paying off,” says John.
Lambs are “twinned on” successfully by rubbing the afterbirth from ewes with singles onto the other lamb. But an adopter unit is also used if necessary.
“If the ewe won’t take her lamb for some reason before we put her in the adopter we tend not to have success. But if she’s lost her young and we are twinning on, it tends to work,” said John.
Ensuring lambs get colostrum within their first few hours of life is a priority for the Scotts.
“We will strip colostrum from the ewe for the lamb if it is not sucking to ensure lambs receive colostrum. This is really important as around 80% of lamb losses are attributable to those first two crucial hours of life,” he says.
Careful labour planning has meant John has a strong team assisting with the lambing this year, including New Zealander Angie, on night-shift, plus Paula and student John, on days. John’s father James is also hands-on. Currently they are lambing 50 ewes a day.
“If anything we are probably over-staffed at the moment, but we are calving 100 cows as well and I’d rather that one person is doing 12 hours well than try to push it – that is when mistakes are made,” says John.