6 December 1996

Accurate estimates help keep finishing on target

Producing lambs to exacting standards depends on adequate feeding of early lambing ewes on one Hants unit. Emma Penny reports

SECURING the right quality and quantity of lambs for the Chitty Special Lamb Group is the aim at John Parker Farms, Droxford, Southampton.

Besides a premium for early finished lamb with the right carcass characteristics, theres a bonus for achieving target lamb numbers and finishing dates. Fulfilling the contract starts by estimating lamb numbers, based on historical records and scanning.

This allows more precise rationing of the ewes in late pregnancy which helps to achieve target lamb birth rates and reduces risk of twin lamb disease and prolapses at lambing, says assistant farm manager Simon Farmer.

Lambing starts in early January for the 650 Texel cross ewes, with the aim of achieving a lambing percentage of 165-170%.

Before housing, ewes are shorn. This minimises the risk of ewes lying on their lambs and smothering them – which led to mortality rates of 6% in the past – and also allows more ewes to be housed in the polytunnel accommodation.

"When the ewes first go into the polytunnel, they are fed 2kg a head a day of clean barley straw in troughs or on the floor," says Mr Farmer.

A 16% protein concentrate high in digestible fibre, and with a minimum of cereals to make up the energy level, is also fed. "We avoid offering a ration high in cereals because we dont want the ewes becoming over-fat which would increase lambing difficulties."

Initially ewes are offered 0.5kg a head a day of the concentrate, with feed levels varied in late pregnancy according to lambs carried and condition score. "Skinny twin-carriers and fat triplet-bearers might be in the same feeding group, but feed use is monitored closely."

Fishmeal ban

Fishmeal is also currently fed at a rate of 2.5%, although Chittys will ban it from ewe rations from next year, says Mr Farmer.

Three weeks before lambing, a 19% protein concentrate is introduced to ensure good milk production. Mr Farmer expects typical intakes one week before lambing to be about 0.7kg a head a day for ewes bearing single lambs, 0.9kg a head a day for twin bearing ewes and for triplets 1.1kg a head a day.


PRE-LAMBING EFFORT


&#8226 Scanning allows more precise rationing.

&#8226 Shearing before housing reduces mortality.

&#8226 Housed on barley straw and 16% concentrate.

&#8226 Three weeks before lambing 19% concentrate.

Lambing starts in early January for the 650 ewes at Wallops Wood Farm.