21 June 2002

Keep prime lambs by switching breed

CHANGING ewe breed and sacrificing a 10-15% loss in lambing percentage will aid North Yorks farm manager David Findlay in his pursuit of lower production costs and more valuable prime lambs.

Mr Findlay is switching from producing a crop of Beltex-sired prime lambs out of Mule ewes to using the Beltex on Texel x Swaledale ewes. He describes the performance of his first group of 50 Texel x Swaledale shearlings to lamb this spring as impressive.

"Three-quarter Continental-bred lambs – out of Texel x Swaledales and by the Beltex – look tremendous. Texel-cross ewes are lambing at 165-175% compared with 185% for the Mules, but Im convinced the crossbreds are a cheaper ewe to manage," he says.

Now, he believes traditional Mule producers should view the Texel as a ewe breeder instead of a terminal sire.

But he is not judging ewe performance solely on lambs reared a ewe. "We want a prime lamb capable of earning a premium price. Im confident the extra p/kg and the more economically managed ewe will cover the reduced lambing percentage."

His April-lambing flock aims to hit the market with top quality prime lambs from November and into the main hogget selling season. "Our Beltex sired lambs really start to put on weight at grass in September-October and thrive in the cooler weather. Theyre ideal for hitting the late autumn market."

Last years lambs were finished inside on maize silage and rapeseed meal and achieved 1.5kg of liveweight gain a week. Weekly feed costs amounted to 82p a lamb.

Ideally lambs are drawn during a finishing period of 10 weeks. Mr Findlay wants an R- grade or better with 20-21kg lambs in fat classs 2,3L or 3H. His break-even price is £2/kg deadweight. Last seasons best price was £2.25/kg.

Last years maize crop was undersown with grass for over-wintering replacement hoggs, but this year it will be undersown with stubble turnips and swedes for finishing lambs.

"Replacements had no extra feed and when we brought them home in March they were in excellent condition. If we can finish lambs on undersown root crops we can reduce production costs," he says. &#42