2 January 1998

Concern over grain marketing pushes the flock outdoors

LAMBING at Catmore Farm, Newbury, Berks, is moving outdoors in May next year.

One reason why is the knock-on effect from the 486ha (1200-acre) farms 405ha (1025-acre) arable enterprise. "Previously the 800 North Country Mules and Suffolk crosses lambed in the grain store in April," says farm manager Nigel Horne.

"Although that does not disqualify the farm from membership to the new cereal quality assurance scheme, the farms owner, Edward Eyston, felt that in the medium and long term it would not be sustainable to mix livestock and grain in the same building."

And as cereal margins are squeezed, Mr Horne is keen not to restrict grain marketing. This has been the case as the grain store had to be empty by January to house ewes. "There is no way we can justify new buildings just for sheep."

At the same time there a is need to maximise profits in the sheep enterprise, and May lambing, which is renowned for cutting veterinary, feed and labour bills, should help in this respect, he believes.

He forecasts May lambing will result in feeding 70% less concentrate – 70kg a ewe was fed at this seasons lambing – and cut lambing labour costs by at least a quarter.

To draw on the experience of other farmers, Catmore Farm has joined Signets May lambing group, and as a result adjusted some of the sheep management. "Although it is early days, things have changed already. For example, historically we have bought maiden shearlings but now we shall be lambing outside on grass I have bought in lamb shearlings.

"In September we pulled out ewes in poorer condition and gave them better grazing to even up the flock. And we have culled more heavily on teeth and udders so there are fewer difficulties post-lambing."

There are 32ha (80 acres) of turnips available for the ewes which Mr Horne hopes will provide 400 ewe grazing days an acre – weather dependent. Thereafter, they will graze an area of sacrifice grass until the flock moves on to clean pasture in mid to late March in preparation for lambing. "In future we will rely heavily on stubble turnips because the grass does not grow well at this time of year."

Ewes were flushed from mid-November and are taking about 25g-30g a day of general purpose minerals. Three weeks later Charollais and Suffolk rams went in.

"We are expecting a compact lambing. At the same time we have been warned that lambing % will fall in the first and subsequent years.

"We my also find Charollais lambs do not have enough fleece if the weather is bad. And if there are a lot of store lambs to sell at the end of the year we may no longer be able to justify the significant cost involved in buying the high index rams we use." &#42

Charollais tups with ewes at Catmore Farm which will lamb outdoors in May for the first time next year, explains farm manager, Nigel Horne.

MAY LAMBING SWITCH

&#8226 No need for buildings.

&#8226 Cut feed/labour costs.

&#8226 Lambing % will fall.