5 January 1996

Drought forces reliance on grass diets

By Alan Barker

FAILURE of the stubble turnip crop, due to the summer drought, has upset the carefully integrated arable and sheep enterprises at Home House and Arglam Grange Farms, at Holme-on-Spalding-Moor, North Humberside.

Fortunately, the Rhodes family produced a good first cut of Ag-Bag silage off some of the 344ha (850-acre) farm. And a decision to switch pedigree Charollais young stock on to a straw-based ration has allowed store lambs to be fed on for the higher-priced January market.

Catherine Thompson, who looks after the arable and livestock farming operation while her brother, Paul Rhodes, concentrates on the farms substantial pig unit, plans to delay lambing of winter-housed ewes until April.

Most of the arable work will be completed before lambing starts, which coincides with the farms main flush of grass during the middle two weeks of that month.

Ewes and lambs can then be stocked tightly, enabling at least half the 28ha (70 acres) of grass devoted to the sheep enterprise to be taken as first-cut silage.

Flock components

The flock consists of 100 Scotch Half-bred ewes run with the Charollais ram to produce home-bred replacements for the main 200-ewe fat-lamb producing flock. These are mated to Meatlinc rams.

The farms 180% lamb crop is weaned in September. In a normal season it would move directly on to stubble turnips which follow vining peas. Feeding stubble turnips early on allows the land to be drilled to winter wheat by the end of October, while the crop itself provides important cover against wheat bulb fly build-up.

Again, in a normal season, after grazing stubble turnips, lambs are fed on sugar beet tops. But beet tops were much lighter this year and, as lambs were well settled on their silage diet, beet top feeding was abandoned.

This particular approach leaves limited amounts of late-season grass, plus fodder beet, to flush ewes prior to mating.

Fat lambs are fed ad lib high quality silage, alongside 0.25kg (0.5lb)/day of lamb finisher concentrate.

The lamb crop has been somewhat lighter this year, due to the dry summer. As a result, the first draw went out at 19kg against an expectation of at least one more 1kg.

Mrs Thompson now aims to market lambs by the end of January to make room for the breeding ewes, which are housed from the last week in January. &#42

Catherine Thompson has had to feed silage to April-born fat lambs after the summer drought caused the stubble turnip crop to fail.

Normally these lambs would have been fed stubble turnips followed by sugar beet tops. This year they are being fed silage plus 0.25kg lamb finisher diet.