15 March 2002

Know facts, stem loss

By Robert Davies

Wales correspondent

BECOMING more efficient managers of their resources will help lowland sheep producers offset poor finished lamb and wool prices and reduced support payments.

This process should start by measuring efficiency in terms of number of lambs sold from each ewe tupped, and from each hectare used, suggests a new Livestock Knowledge Transfer Initiative* fact sheet.

Knowing the margin/kg of lamb sold and how the enterprises results compare with others on the farm, will help make business decisions. But to do this accurately fixed costs must be taken into account, says ADAS senior consultant Kate Phillips, one of the factsheet authors.

The largest fixed cost on most sheep farms is labour. "It is vital that all lowland producers critically assess labour cost relative to the output and welfare of stock," explains the fact sheet. All means to improve efficiency of labour use should be employed to help improve overall flock profitability.

This could be by increasing the number of sheep managed by a man, perhaps by simplifying flock management, use of easy-care breeds or more contract labour for basic tasks.

However, there are many other ways of boosting output and margins, advises Mrs Phillips. A high lambing percentage is crucial, so weaning should take place at least eight weeks before tupping.

Flushing on good grazing for three weeks before and six weeks after tupping is also important. Then maintain ewes on a steady plane of nutrition during the second and third months of pregnancy to optimise embryo survival, she adds.

Condition scoring ewes in mid-pregnancy and eight weeks before lambing will ensure they are maintaining condition to assess whether supplementary feeding is necessary.

"Analysing forage and formulating accurate rations will help meet the ewes increasing nutritional demand as pregnancy proceeds. Only use high quality home-mixes or compound feeds in late pregnancy."

To perform well the flock needs access to short leafy pasture, adds Mrs Phillips. Soils need testing every three years and nutrient deficiencies must be corrected to ensure applied nitrogen is used efficiently.

She also advises drawing up a flock health plan in consultation with a vet. This should consider how to correct low mineral, trace element or vitamin levels, particularly copper, cobalt, iodine, selenium and vitamin E.

To optimise flock profits as many lambs as possible must grade E, U or R for conformation and be in fat classes 2 or 3L.

"Nationally, only about 50% of lambs reach this specification. There is scope to improve that by more selective breeding, using performance tested sires and careful marketing of lambs."

*The Livestock Knowledge Transfer initiative is funded by DEFRA and operated by ADAS, The Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research and Bristol University. &#42

LOWLAND SHEEP

Meet ewe feed requirements.

Improve lamb grades.

Flocks need short, leafy pasture to perform well, advises Kate Phillips (inset).

&#8226 Meet ewe feed requirements.

&#8226 Improve lamb grades.