11 April 1997

Grass seed policy ensures flying start

By Rebecca Austin

TURNING out ewes and lambs on to grass seeds enables Tristram Sykes to sell 65-70% of his lambs by weaning in early July.

Once at grass, lambs gain an average 3kg a week, with some putting on 4.5kg a week when the weather is warm and sunny.

Not only do the 40-45ha (100-110 acres) of grass seeds at Norr-ington Manor Farms, Shaftesbury, provide extra acreage for sheep grazing just after lambing, but all spring barley is undersown with grass. This makes an extra 40-45ha (100-110 acres) available after harvest for flushing the ewes.

Lambing the 800 North Country and Scotch Mules is planned in two 400-head batches. The first starts on Jan 25 and the second Mar 1. Once ewes and lambs have hardened off in yards around the farm, they are turned out on to the grass seeds due to be harvested this year, or those harvested last time, as well as on to some permanent pasture. Batches of 100 ewes are turned into 12-15ha (30-36 acre) fields.

"Seeds are grazed to May 1, providing 40-45ha of brand new Italian and hybrid ryegrass for ewes and lambs," says Mr Sykes.

Varieties include the Italian ryegrass Abercomo and the hybrid Gazella. Italians are used rather than perennials because they grow better in spring, and hybrids are higher in sugar than the Italians, which allows ewes to milk well.

"We have just sown next years grass seeds, all of which are hybrids," says Mr Sykes, who is chairman of the NFUs seeds committee. "The hybrid vigour produces more grass and better quality than the Italians."

Creep is not offered to lambs, which pick at the ewes feed instead, eating about 0.3kg a day of 18% protein cake after turnout.

Despite the limited use of concentrates, some of the 1400 lambs will be finished by April, easing the stocking rate when the grass seeds are no longer available from May. This year Mr Sykes hopes 1000 lambs will have left the farm by weaning.

Most grade 3LR and average 16kg dw off the ewe or up to 18kg dw when weaned. High index sire reference Dorset Down rams have improved weights by at least 1.5kg since they were first used. And Mr Sykes is introducing Scotch Mules to the flock in an attempt to achieve even higher weights. "They have more frame than the North Country Mule so their lambs should be heavier," he explains.

He also grows 8-10ha (20-25 acres) of kale and stubble turnips to finish weaned lambs. Any acreage left over winter is available for early lambing ewes and lambs. This keeps them off the grass for a little longer, says Mr Sykes, giving it a better start in the spring. &#42

Grass seeds let Wilts producer Tristram Sykes get lambs off to a good start.


&#8226 Turnout onto grass seeds.

&#8226 Hybrids for high sugars.

&#8226 Italians for early growth.