18 December 1998

Continuing success with lambing results

Latest results from Signet

flock recordings at Kings

Arms make encouraging

reading. Allan Wright reports

EARLY lambing at Kings Arms has been a success again this year according to the latest results from the Signet recording service.

Particularly pleasing, says Robert Dalrymple, is that 90% of the potential lambs revealed by scans were reared. That figure has improved by 2% in each of the past three years.

Such results are obviously held in high regard. A new advisory booklet* on lamb production produced by the SAC features the Kings Arms system, and includes creep feeding tips in the field.

This is part of the Dalrymples high input, high output system. Although it costs £5-6/lamb it means lambs born in late February can be marketed from the second week in May.

"Attention to detail is essential as is careful selection of the best lambs for creep feeding. It has paid dividends this year more by good fortune than good judgement," says Robert.

Lamb prices fell by only 9p/kg on the year because he was able to market most lambs before the price collapsed. "But if the lamb price stays where it is the margins will not be there next year," he adds – lamb feed costs at Kings Arms are almost twice the Signet average for the top third of recorded flocks.

A comparison of Texel and Suffolk sales from June 9 showed 539 Texels averaging £44.23 and 639 Suffolks at £47.24 despite the lamb group offering a premium for Texel crosses. The Suffolks finished quicker and more of them earned early season premiums.

Recent weeks have seen the lambing shed being thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, the wooden pens repaired, and the ewes brought in, passing through a footbath on entry. Housing has been 10 days earlier than normal because the land was so wet.

Top of Roberts Christmas list is a return to proper seasonal weather. "Crisp, clean frosty mornings in winter and some decent dry weather in summer and autumn would be very welcome.

"Our average rainfall has been 850mm (34in) in the past three years and the longer term norm is 1000mm (40in). But this year we had 1025mm (41in) by the end of November with 225mm (9in) in October and almost six inches in November."

The Dalrymples are searching for two lambers (one night shift and one day shift) for three weeks during the peak lambing season from late February.

"We hope we can attract local people, perhaps farmers sons before lambing starts on their own units or a husband and wife team that could share the shifts. We can offer a cottage if need be," says Caroline.

The importance of weighing lambs before they leave the farm for a deadweight centre was highlighted recently. The batch in question averaged 44.9kg liveweight which should have meant a minimum deadweight of about 20.5kg.

However, the grade and weight sheet from the abattoir at Kilmarnock showed an average weight of 18kg. After complaining through their lamb group the Dalrymples discovered a computer failure at the abattoir was responsible. They will receive the full price.

Wet and humid conditions have caused some cases of pneumonia in housed cattle, even although they are all clipped along their backs. However, there have been no deaths.

The sale through the OTMS scheme of three heifers not in calf, plus £800 compensation for a BSE voluntary cohort cull animal, almost paid for three replacement heifers. "We did not need the numbers for suckler cow quota, but we thought it best to reinvest the money in the breeding herd," says Robert.

The Dalrymples have signed up for a second five-year term under the Environmentally Sensitive Area scheme. It pays £1000 a year to manage the qualifying part of the farm in an environmentally friendly way and has paid for new dykes in the past five years. Some hedging and fencing is planned in the second phase.

* Producing Farm Assured Lambs Profitably is available from SAC, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JG. &#42

FARM FACTS

&#8226 Kings Arms and Crailoch Farms, at Ballantrae on the Ayrshire coast, run as one 262ha (650 acre) unit by Robert and Caroline Dalrymple.

&#8226 Grass the only crop – for grazing and high-quality silage. It is an early area but land near the sea is sandy and burns easily in summer.

&#8226 Suckler herd of 180 cows mated to Charolais sires and progeny sold as yearlings.

&#8226 Sheep flock of 900 Mule and Texel-cross ewes lambing from mid-February. About 300 hoggs are also lambed.

&#8226 Farm staff of three.