12 March 1999

Lambing take-off brings optimism for final figures

With lambing in full

swing at Kings Arms, some

extra insurance has been

taken out against the

weather. Modest changes to

the beef enterprise are also

being pondered by Robert

and Caroline Dalrymple as

Allan Wright discovers

MORE than 500 ewes were expected to lamb in five days this week, a marked contrast to the slow start to lambing, which began on Feb 21.

Uncertainty about end prices has been put to one side. The arrival of the new crop is always seen as a time for optimism.

"The aim is always to do better than the previous year and, at the moment, that means getting the maximum number of lambs on the ground," says Robert Dalrymple.

"It was a slow start as we knew it would be from tupping time. But we are now getting more than 100 lambed each day and triplets are outnumbering singles. We are reasonably hopeful about the final figures.

"Some people say that ewes running with triplets are more trouble than they are worth. We accept that it does increase the risk of mastitis but consider the extra lambs a considerable asset even if the care and attention has to be that much greater."

The weather has not been too bad but fields are wet. Fortunately, during the first fortnight of lambing, there was no pressure on space thanks to the Dalrymples decision to revamp old sheds to create extra accommodation.

This time last year, the Dalrymples joined the countryside march in London while it snowed heavily at home. They returned to find ewes and lambs in every conceivable corner of the farm.

"That prompted us to turn an old cattle cubicle building into sheep housing. We took out the cubicles and divided the shed into one section for 60 unlambed triplets in two pens, and four pens which are taking eight ewes with their lambs. These could take 12 if the weather was really bad."

While the extra space cost little, it is now eating into straw reserves and more will be needed, especially since ewes carrying singles were housed from the start this year to save already wet fields. Ewes expecting triplets have their diet supplemented by ad-lib treacle while those having twins have some sprinkled over their silage.

Two lambers have been employed to complement the full time Kings Arms staff during lambing. With more than 100 ewes lambing each day, penning arrangements in the main sheep shed help, with colour coding for lambing groups and for number of lambs carried. Singles are penned close to triplets to ease adoption.

Extra space for sheep is also created at this time of year by selling some suckled calves. The 16 bullocks averaged 451kg and made 103p/kg, or £465 a head. That was up 14kg and £22 on the year but is still £85 short of 1997 values. The 14 heifers averaged 379kg, and made 96p/kg, £364 each. This was £10 a head better than last year, despite each being 13 kg lighter on average. The heaviest six are being kept for finishing.

"We are pondering the question of finishing more of our cattle, especially the heifers. They make more per kg as finished animals than they do as stores and they finish at lighter weights which we could manage without greatly changing our system.

"The key has to be selling stores at the optimum weight which seems to be 420kg for bullocks and 350kg as heifers. If you have heifers up at 400kg and above, it does not take much more to finish them," says Mr Dalrymple.

"We will see how things go, but in farming it pays to consider change very carefully. We have a system which works for us, mixing beef and sheep on a wholly grassland farm. Any change has to be seen within the whole farming system."

Although this system could not accommodate steers finished to conventional weights at 18 months of age, semi-intensive bull beef is being given some thought.

The Dalrymples also feel that February may not be the best time to sell stores. "The weather is still uncertain at that time and there is not much grass about. By April, when we sell our main crop of calves, there is grass and more interest from finishers. But, of course, there are also more cattle looking for buyers." The big Ayr sale for the Kings Arms suckled calves is on Apr 15.

Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowances have been received, about three weeks earlier than last year. &#42

FARM FACTS

&#8226 Kings Arms and Crailoch Farms, at Ballantrae on the Ayrshire coast, run as one 262ha (650 acre) unit by Robert and Caroline Dalrymple.

&#8226 Grass the only crop – for grazing and high quality silage. It is an early area but land near the sea is sandy and burns easily in summer.

&#8226 Suckler herd of 180 cows mated to Charolais sires and progeny sold as yearlings.

&#8226 Sheep flock of 900 Mule and Texel-cross ewes lambing from mid-February. About 300 hoggs are also lambed.

&#8226 Farm staff of three.