27 March 1998

Keeping it oh, so simple…

Simple management

maximises lambs sold on

one Worcs sheep unit.

Rebecca Austin reports

THE Kirbys run a very simple lambing system at Hope House Farm, Martley, Worcs. However, it is both cost-effective and efficient, enabling them to achieve 1.6 lambs sold off 175% lambed down.

The secret: Good staff and continuous observation, believes Tony Kirby. To that end he, his sons Ian and Neil, and shepherd Michael Collins strive to improve the management of their 1000-strong North Country Mule based sheep enterprise. This year, for example, they chose not to inject ewes with the seven-in-one vaccine against clostridial disease, which is usually administered three weeks pre-lambing.

"We wanted to avoid the stress involved in getting ewes together to inject them as we believe it brings on abortion and other stress-related illnesses," explains Mr Kirby. To date – and they started lambing on Feb 15 – ewes and lambs have remained remarkably healthy so they are likely to carry on with the same policy next year. To protect lambs against pasteurella, pulpy kidney and other common diseases covered by the seven-in-one vaccine, each receives the recommended dose 28 days after birth – a fortnight earlier than advised.

"We seem to be OK at the moment but Im sure the weather has helped us along," says Mr Kirby, who is hoping to see a long-term financial benefit from the new policy.

Otherwise the Kirbys have stuck to a routine which has been honed over the years. However, the essence of the lambings success is scanning, says Mr Kirby. "It must be the best thing since sliced bread was invented," he says. "It means that we can feed the ewe for the number of lambs that she is carrying and then know she will be in the right condition to do the job properly. It avoids so many problems and certainly pays for itself."

As a result ewes carrying triplets were housed at the beginning of January when they were offered 0.3kg of 18% cake. This increased to 1.5kg/day at lambing. At the other extreme, depending on the weather, singles are kept out for as long as possible and are on 0.5kg/day.

When outside ewes are fed cobs as this reduces waste and means there is no need for trough feeding which the Kirbys believe is more stressful on both them and the sheep.

Fodder beet is available ad lib outside. It is used by the Kirbys for a number of reasons: The crop fits in within the arable rotation, ewes find it palatable and it has a high fibre content. At housing ewes are fed a conventional nut. This is again offered on the floor which is heavily bedded at all times as the flocks roughage base is wheat straw.

This ensures ewes do not bolt their food and are kept content. However, when ordering feed before lambing Mr Kirby ensured the cake had a high vitamin E content to compensate for a lack of it in wheat straw.

Twenty-four hour surveillance ensures ewe and lamb are individually penned as soon as possible to avoid mis-mothering which otherwise is the set-ups biggest headache. Disease is kept at bay by cleaning out and liming the floor of the 1.8m x 0.9m (6ft x 3ft) pens after each ewe and a stone floor ensures good drainage within the well ventilated shed. To avoid confusion specific marks on the ewes neck and back indicate to everybody that her lambs have been bottled fed or injected when necessary. All lambs receive a Terramycin injection within the first day of their life to prevent them picking up disease such as joint ill and watery mouth. And before they are moved into a larger pen with about seven other ewes, lambs are ringed, ram lambs castrated and ewe lambs notched in the ear for later identification. At the same time ewes are wormed.

When turned out ewes are fed for as long as necessary depending on the weather and grass growth. No creep feed is offered to lambs which are finished from the end of May. Usually the Kirbys will buy in about 120 North Country Mule gimmers each year which run with the main flock in the hope they will pick up all the immunity they need before lambing starts.

However, this year a dear trade and poor autumn lamb price means the Kirbys are breeding from their own stock this lambing and are likely to do so again the future although they are keen to maintain the North Country Mule influence.

LAMBING SUCCESS

&#8226 Good staff/observation.

&#8226 No pre-lambing vaccines.

&#8226 Extra vitamin E for ewes.

Ewe and lambs are individually penned as soon as possible to any chance of avoid mis-mothering. IanKirby gives each lamb a Terramycin injection within the first day of life to prevent them picking up disease.

LAMBING SUCCESS

&#8226 Good staff/observation.

&#8226 Scanning ewes.

&#8226 Extra vitamin E for ewes.