Dont keep back cull ewes, despite possible shortfall
By Jonathan Long
PRODUCERS fearful that recent high cull ewe prices, together with strong trades at early breeding sales, will mean a shortage of breeding ewes available in the autumn are advised not to keep back cull ewes.
Despite suggestions that high cull ewe prices will mean high breeding ewe prices in the autumn, indications are that plenty of ewe lambs were retained last year for marketing as shearlings this time around, says MLC economist Jane Connor.
"December census figures show that despite large numbers of sheep being lost to foot-and-mouth, the number of ewe lambs retained was greater than the previous year. In some areas up to 8% more."
Flockmasters, unable to source replacements, may have kept back older ewes last year. This will have left many flocks with greater numbers of less productive, possibly troublesome ewes which will need to be culled out this year.
Flocks should be culled as hard as necessary, says David Morris, senior ADAS consultant. "Keeping on ewes which would normally be culled but look well this autumn will only cause problems in the long run.
"These ewes could be trouble throughout the winter months, many will lose condition and it may be difficult to keep them alive through to lambing. Once lambed it is likely that they will not do their lambs well and the lambs will often be more trouble than they are worth."
Many producers may consider retaining their own ewe lambs; this will guarantee a supply of females for the flock and help lower the chances of buying in diseases. "However, these lambs may not grow into the type of ewe that producers want and this policy should be avoided," adds Mr Morris.
"Ewe lambs kept back for breeding will need to be mature and strong before they are tupped, to ensure that growth is not stunted by pregnancy. They should display good hybrid vigour, be strong and healthy and preferably from twin bearing families."
With a possible shortage of North Country Mules, brought about by losses to F&M, producers should look to other sources of ewes such as Welsh Mules, or possibly halfbreds.
"When buying in halfbred replacements terminal sire choice will be critical." He advises avoiding putting ewes back to their sire breed if possible, to promote hybrid vigour in lambs. *
• Cull all problem ewes.
• Check replacements health status.
• Consider alternative breeds.