Brassicas beef up returns for one Lincs flock
Profit from store lambs depends on healthy stock which are fed low-cost fodder. Rebecca Austin reports
STORE lambs gain 0.4kg a day off brassicas on one Lincolnshire unit. That is once they have acquired a taste for cabbage, cauliflower, calabrese and brussels sprouts.
At present 471 Suffolk- and Texel-sired March-born lambs are grazing 14ha (35 acres) of cala-brese at L W Van Geest Farms, Spalding. In six weeks, after they have stripped the plants, they will move on to another plot.
Initially, the 30kg lambs lost about 5kg before they became used to the slightly bitter flavour. But they will be 10kg heavier when they sell before the end of the year for no less than £40 a head.
Farm manager Robert Love has nearly 1000 lambs still to market from 1000 Mule and Texel cross ewes. The rest have already gone to Stamford market and local abattoirs but Mr Love stop-ped selling when the price dropped back to £35 a head last month.
Lack of grass at weaning five weeks ago means this is the earliest the vegetable crops have been fed. They have been harvested at least twice already and once the lambs have been folded over them they will be disced-in before another crop, such as potatoes, is planted.
As the vegetables are more lucrative than the sheep, last years policy of contracting 1600 lambs to graze them has been dropped, for more often than not the lambs were still there when the land needed cultivating to ensure good establishment of the next seasons crop.
As it is, it costs Mr Love 35p a lamb each week to clean up the vegetables. And they are a good nutritional source. Cabbage has a dry matter of 11%, a metabolisable energy of 12.3MJ/kg DM and 19.5% crude protein. Cauliflower and calabrese analyse at 15%DM, 12ME and 15% crude protein.
"Lambs can, however, experience anaemia problems when grazing brassicas," says Mr Love. "We always put out iodised salt to prevent goitres and some producers will need to offer copper. Although there is always plenty of water in the plants, we provide water on welfare grounds. It has been essential during this dry spell."
Mr Love is also quick to point out that lambs should not be starved before they are turned out on to brassicas. "They can often bloat and die when grazing lush growth after a lean period. As the crops are low in fibre, we also offer hay or straw to ensure efficient digestion."
The land is clean of parasite burden. To keep it that way lambs are wormed at the same time as dipping, grading and sorting by size and breed. To save on time and labour the Texel- and Suffolk-bred lambs should be separated, says Mr Love, as the Suffolks will finish more quickly than Texels.
All are vaccinated for clostridial diseases, such as pulpy kidney. "This is very important for farmers buying in lambs, as they dont always know where they come from," says Mr Love. "If immunity is doubtful any stress could trigger off pasteurella, so we always use a 5 in 1 vaccine plus something to control pasteurella."
The electric fencing conducts at 4000 volts. "You need good batteries and wire and it is vital the fence is not earthing on the crop," he says. *