7 June 2002

January lambing ups efficiency

By Wendy OwenNorth-east correspondent

SWITCHING from April to January lambing has improved gross margins and made more efficient use of labour on an East Yorkshire farm.

Givendale Farm, Pocklington, used to lamb 750 Mule ewes in April, finishing lambs during the following autumn. But the 478ha (1180 acre) farms tenants, JSR Farming Group, have brought lambing forward to January, resulting in a 10% improvement in the enterprise gross margin.

JSR Farming livestock specialist, Richard Fuller explains that in 2000 the Mule flock was replaced by 600 January-lambing Suffolk half breds. Their lambs, sired by Meatlink tups, are reared indoors on an intensive system, so they can be finished at just four months old.

One of the main reasons for the switch to January lambing was to allow for the expansion of the beef herd, says Mr Fuller. However the change has brought a number of other benefits and 15ha (37 acres) of temporary grass leys, previously put down for ewes and lambs, can now be used for arable cropping.

"This farm carries 200 suckler cows plus followers and 50 acres of temporary leys are needed for silage making to supplement the 469 acres of steep permanent pasture," he explains.

"The change has also allowed labour to be used more efficiently and variable costs have been reduced because ewes and lambs no longer have to be looked after outside. All lambs are gone after just 16 weeks, instead of being on the farm for the rest of the year. If they stayed they would have to be moved, weighed regularly, wormed and vaccinated. But now the shepherd is free to help out with our cattle breeding programme."

Previously, the April-lambing flock was brought inside in January and fed for three months before lambing. On the current system, lambs are weaned at about six weeks old and the ewes turned out to grass towards the end of March.

Cash flow has also improved, with all returns from the flock usually in the bank by May. Changes have also meant that the sheep fit in well around the land in the Countryside Stewardship Scheme.

"The JSR Farming Group has four areas of chalk grassland in the scheme, but they are scattered around different farms several miles apart," says Mr Fuller.

"It was impractical from a shepherding point of view to have the April lambing flock grazing these areas with their lambs in spring. But Suffolk half-bred ewes are dry throughout summer and can graze stewardship areas as part of the schemes management requirements."

The feed bill is inevitably higher with the intensively finished lamb flock, with an average cost of £10/head, although a significant proportion of the April born lambs also needed concentrate feeding to finish. But Mr Fuller points out that fertiliser costs and grassland operations have to be taken into account when comparing inputs between the two systems.

This year, the farm is trying to reduce feed costs by experimenting with a home-mixed ration, including barley, sugar beet pulp and rapemeal.

The target, which is currently being achieved, is for a 20kg deadweight lamb with 80% classifying R or better. Previously only 40% of the April-born lambs achieved the higher grades, adds Mr Fuller.

"The only drawback to the new system is that the Suffolk cross ewes only produce 1.6 lambs each, compared with 1.8 for Mules.

"But reduced need for labour, savings made on variable costs and higher spring lamb prices compensate. General management of the flock is also much simpler." &#42

January-born lambs will finish inside within 16 weeks, allowing the shepherd more time to help with the farms beef enterprise, says Richard Fuller.

&#8226 Improved gross margin.

&#8226 Better use of labour.

&#8226 Countryside Stewardship benefits.