1 August 1997

Best care will make most of lambing hoggs

Shepherding to a high standard helps to get the most out of lambing hoggs on one Cumbrian farm. Jeremy Hunt reports

DEDICATED shepherding and close attention to nutritional needs during pregnancy produce a consistently high lambing percentage from ewe hoggs on a Cumbria farm.

Of the 454 North of England Mule hoggs bought last year by Messrs Davidson, Spedding Farm, Penruddock, Penrith, 212 produced singles, 224 produced twins and there were three sets of triplets. Only 21 ewes were geld, giving a lambing percentage of 150%.

As well as running a dairy herd and selling home-bred strong store cattle, the Davidsons maintain a 30-year family tradition of buying Mule ewe hoggs, taking a lamb crop and selling them as shearlings.

Experience has earned them a reputation for quality shearlings – last year they averaged £114 for 450 head sold at Lazonbys early September sale – even after the flying flock has produced a valuable lamb crop as a bonus.

"We do not buy top show pens but we want good quality lambs. There has to be a £20 difference between what we sell shearlings for and what we pay for lambs. We have to know what the shearlings made before we start buying more lambs," says Ian Davidson.

After weeks of preparation in the run-up to the sale, he believes Mule lambs benefit from being left alone when they arrive at Spedding Farm. They are dosed and given the first of two clostridial jabs in October but receive no preferential grazing and are not trough fed.

After eight weeks the hoggs are moved on to better grazing as the dairy cows are housed and by tupping time are split into groups of about 100.

"If you start feeding hoggs at this stage they will just get fat. You want them to harden off a bit and grow some frame."

Three to four Suffolk tups are run with each group from Nov 1 to Jan 1. Feed blocks are offered if the weather is particularly bad and ad lib hay is available from early December. Hay racks are kept full throughout the winter.

"We may start to feed a little cake before Christmas depending on the weather – say less than half a pound a head – but our official feeding date is Jan 1 even though we do not start lambing until April."

Mr Davidson believes the January-April feed regime is critical. Ewe hoggs may seem to thrive during the winter but many can be seriously under-nourished as they try to support developing lambs on a low level of nutrition.

"Compensatory feeding in late pregnancy in an attempt to improve ewe hoggs that are in poor condition will not benefit the ewe. It only leads to bigger lambs and a difficult lambing. We believe that is why many people say they have difficulty lambing hoggs. Avoiding any check in condition during pregnancy is a priority," says Mr Davidson.

The flock is scanned in February and dosed and given a multi-vitamin drench. The hoggs are not housed at lambing time and only the worst weather will prompt twin-bearing ewes to be brought inside at night.

In the final six to eight weeks before lambing feed rates are about 0.45kg (1lb) a head, but all feeding is stopped after lambing.

The ewes are clipped about June 10 and lambs are weaned on July 20. The first draw of lambs – usually about 60 – is made at weaning time. Last years overall average weight for the prime lamb crop sold through Penrith market was 40kg.

"We spend a lot of time shepherding these hoggs. We feel it is important to allow them time to settle after they arrive and do some more growing. Keeping up the nutritional needs and being prepared to start feeding early in the winter and throughout the pregnancy is a vital part of the flocks management.

"This is an LFA farm and we run Mule hoggs to 1000ft. Getting the best out of them is not about molly-coddling them but about trying to achieve a high standard of shepherding from day one." &#42

Mule hoggs at Spedding Farm achieved a lambing % of 150% this year.

HOGG CARE

&#8226 Allow to settle on-farm and grow.

&#8226 Good nutrition vital.

&#8226 Start feeding early.

Ian (left) and Alan Davidson believe that a high standard of shepherding is vital to get the best out of their Mule hoggs.