20 February 1998

A practical look at how to cut costs in the SW

The Holland familys Slade

Farm, West Anstey, Devon,

is to be used by ADAS as its

sheep demonstration farm

representing south-west

upland conditions.

John Burns reports in the

first of a series monitoring

progress at the

demonstration farms

HOW can best practice reduce production costs/kg of lamb sold? Thats what ADAS sheep adviser Charles Stone, who will be working with Norman and Christine Holland, intends to find out. In particular they will be aiming to reduce total lamb mortality.

In this first year of a three-year initial programme, the base lines will be established. The only changes from previous practice on this 140ha (340-acre) farm were, according to Mr Holland, culling a bit harder than he would have done himself, checking the rams more thoroughly and having three tested for fertility.

"We also blood-tested the ewes to check for mineral and trace element deficiencies, such as selenium, and scanned the in-lamb ewes."

Floor feeding of the housed ewes was also tried for the first time with great success. "It gave us room for another 100 ewes and it has cut out all the bullying," says Mr Holland.

So far as best practice is concerned Mr Holland explains that it will have to be best practice for his bank manager. "I will want convincing evidence that any further expenditure on, for example, more vaccines will be cost effective." At present they use only Heptavac P-Plus.

At 170-280m (550-900ft) their farm is classified "severely disadvantaged" and so qualifies for the higher subsidy supplement. They have two hill breeds – Exmoor Horns and Scottish Blackface (see box) – both of which are put to Bluefaced Leicester rams to produce Mules for their own use and for sale. Some of the Exmoors are bred pure. Eventually the Mule flock will all be home-bred.

All except the Blackface ewes – which lamb outdoors – are shorn at housing in mid-January. The airy shed is temporarily divided into 10 pens each 11m x 4.6m (35ft x 15ft), leaving a 6m (20ft) central area which is at first used for hay and straw storage. Just before lambing – which starts in mid-March – it is cleared and a double row of lambing pens erected there. All pens are mucked out before lambing starts.

The winter ration is ad lib hay fed through a simple feed fence, and for the last six weeks of pregnancy an 18% cake is fed at a flat rate according to breed and number of lambs expected. Exmoors carrying twins get 0.45kg a day, Exmoors with singles 0.25kg, Mule hoggs 0.35kg for eight weeks, Mule ewes with singles 0.35kg, Mules with twins 0.55kg, Mules with triplets 0.45kg for four weeks and 0.8kg for the last four weeks. All the Exmoors which were served late are fed 0.35kg a day for their last six weeks.

Wherever possible spare triplet lambs are fostered off. The few that cannot be fostered are left with the ewes, run with the dairy cows on good grass and the lambs given creep feed.

Mr Stones says that after two seasons establishing a base position, the flocks will be given extra vitamin E to see what effect it had on lamb mortality. Early results from ADAS trials so far suggest standard ARC recommendations on vitamin E levels may need to be increased, he adds. But the trials are continuing and findings of the demonstration farms will eventually be included in any revised information.

Progress bulletins about the farm will be issued at intervals and there will be an open day on the farm later in the year.

Stocking at Slade Farm, West Anstey, Devon.

&#8226 65 dairy cows plus 70 dairy followers

&#8226 83 Scottish Blackface ewes

&#8226 174 Exmoor Horn ewes

&#8226 300 North Country Mule ewes

&#8226 43 in-lamb Mule hoggs.

&#8226 Suffolk and Charollais rams used on the Mules.

MANAGEMENT CHANGES

&#8226 Culling a bit harder

&#8226 Ram fertility checks

&#8226 Blood testing ewes

&#8226 Scanning in-lamb ewes

ADASis monitoring progress at Slade Farm, West Anstey, Devon, to determine how best to reduce production costs in upland flocks.

MANAGEMENT CHANGES

&#8226 Culling a bit harder

&#8226 Ram fertility checks

&#8226 Blood testing ewes

&#8226 Scanning in-lamb ewes

Norman Holland…seeks convincing evidence that any further expenditure will be cost-effective.

SLADE FARM STOCKING

&#8226 65 dairy cows plus 70 dairy followers

&#8226 83 Scottish Blackface ewes

&#8226 174 Exmoor Horn ewes

&#8226 300 North Country Mule ewes

&#8226 43 in-lamb Mule hoggs.

&#8226 Suffolk and Charollais rams used on the Mules.