7 November 1997

Best performers chosen for flock replacements

Tupping ewe lambs ensures

one Gloucestershire

producer knows exactly

how his flock replacements

will perform.

Emma Penny reports

FEW sheep producers relish the task of lambing ewe lambs, but for one Glos producer its a surefire way of knowing exactly where his flock replacements come from and how they are likely toperform.

Peter Sidgwick, who farms 65ha (160 acres) at Rushbury House Farm, Winchcombe, Cheltenham, buys ewe lambs every year, and selects the best of those for his main flock, which is run under a contract farming arrangement locally.

"Ewe lambs dovetail well with the main flock of 800 Mule ewes."

This year, Mr Sidgwick has purchased just over 100 ewe lambs from northern England – far fewer than the 400 bought last season. "High prices this year have made it uneconomic to buy any more – excess autumn grass, the effects of the BSE crisis and subdued grain prices seem to have pushed demand and market price up. To help make up numbers, I have retained 130 yearlings which would otherwise have beensold."

Tups will go into the flock of ewe lambs in the third week of November, with lambing due to start on Apr 22.

Many producers with ewe lambs will choose not to flush them to minimise the risk of highconception rates. However,Mr Sidgwick aims to buy strong lambs, and he is preparedto ensure adequate management and labour is available atlambing to cope with anyewe lambs which produce twins.

"We have a gradual flushing process – we dont flush them like ewes, but they receive plenty of clean grass."

In previous years, ewe lambs have been shorn after purchase to improve growth rate, help appraise condition and ensure cleanliness. However, Mr Sidgwick is not convinced that this offers many benefits, and plans to only crutch lambs before tupping this year.

At tupping, he says it is vital to use only experienced rams, and at a ratio of at least one male to every 30 ewe lambs. "We use a clean headed ram, which will give some good lambs for breeding if there is a premium available."

Introducing tups in the third week of November means lambs are ovulating well, and so a teaser is not used. And attempting to minimise disturbance at tupping means crayons and ram harnesses are not used. "However, we watch the flock carefully."

If grass runs short during tupping, big square bale silage will be introduced to maintain the flock on a consistant plane of nutrition. "We found – through an on-farm trial – that intakes of square bale silage are up to one-and-a-half times greater than round bale silage."

Tups are run with the ewe lambs for three weeks, then removed. The flock remains at grass until housing – usually in January – with silage or concentrate introduced in periods of bad weather.

After scanning, twin bearing ewe lambs are separated from those carrying single lambs, and empty lambs are sold off.

"Feeding singles requires more care than feeding those carrying twins, which must be treated like a triplet bearing ewe."

Twin-bearers are kept inside until after lambing, and offered ad-lib silage plus 0.7kg concentrate/ head/day. "Singles are turned out to grass in March, and lamb outside, which can be a challenge."

Mr Sidgwick admits that lambing ewe lambs can be tricky due to the lack of maternal bond. "Its time consuming if you are doing it properly, and can often be a case of dog and stick."

Introduced to creep

Progeny from ewe lambs bearing twins is introduced to creep as soon as possible, and lambs are weaned at nine to 10 weeks old. These twin-bearing ewe lambs may need concentrate feeding during August to help regain condition for tupping with the main flock, he says. "Consequently, overall ewe lamb feed costs can be high – £13 a head last year including creep feed."

He acknowledges that these high costs, stemming mainly from twin-bearers, make the economics questionable, but points out that the higher lambing percentage offsets that. Also, knowing the history of replacements for the main flock helps justify costs.

"Last year we scanned over 770 ewes, and only three were empty. We havent had a barren yearling in the last two years, so knowing where replacements come from obviously helps."

Peter Sidgwick… ewe lambs dovetail well with the main Mule ewe flock.

Tups – all very experienced – run with the ewe lambs at Rushbury House Farm for three weeks.

TUPPING EWE LAMBS

&#8226 Crutch or shear.

&#8226 Minimise stress.

&#8226 Experienced rams.