25 July 1997

MAY LAMBS NEED TOP CARE

Care at weaning and finishing and maintaining good health are vital to ensuring marketability of May born lambs. Emma Penny reports

AVOIDING lambs becoming over-fat during August and September, managing them in weight groups and maintaining good health are the keys to finishing May born lambs on one Hants estate.

A move to May lambing at West Tisted Estate, Alresford, coincided with the decision to finish lambs rather than sell them on as stores.

For the last three years shepherd Adrian Gibbs has been selling finished lambs deadweight from November through until March. This year marketing is planned to start even earlier, with the first batches due to leave the farm in September.

"If the price remains high we will start selling in September. We would like to get as many lambs away as quickly as possible – particularly as there is more New Zealand lamb than last year coming into the UK in January."

Lambs produced by the May lambing Mule and Mule cross Texel ewes at West Tisted are bolstered by an additional 1000 lambs bought as stores for finishing. About 3600 lambs are finished annually, and sold deadweight to Avonmore for the export market, which demands lambs at fat class 3L or less and under 21kg deadweight.

According to Mr Gibbs the secrets of successfully finishing May born lambs are sorting according to condition at weaning, ensuring lambs remain healthy, and adjusting finishing rate to minimise losses when prices are poor.

"Lambs are weaned in early August. At weaning we handle and weigh each one and then sort them into batches according to weight and condition."

Those weighing about 40kg, which are likely to finish first, are separated out and dipped. The remainder, including heavy lean lambs, are shorn to help fly control, avoid crutching and ensure they continue to eat – and finish – during the hot months of August and September.

"It also means selection is easier – you are not looking at a lamb through its wool. The cost of shearing is more than covered by the return from wool sales, and it is amazing how quickly lambs come on after clipping."

Grouping lambs of the same weight means Mr Gibbs can manage finishing more efficiently. Those likely to finish quickly are in the same group, making assessing and selecting finished animals easier as they do not all have to be individually handled again, he points out. "But if the price drops we will handle all which look like finishing. If we have enough keep well try to retain leaner lambs until the price rises again."

After weaning, lambs are put out to graze silage aftermaths. This is when they are most likely to become over-fat, so they are stocked tightly. Lambs are moved onto the 69ha (170 acres) of new grass sown annually as it becomes ready for grazing.

The lambs usually graze new swards until the end of October, but may be moved back to silage aftermath, depending on grass availability. At the end of October, lambs move on to stubble turnips. "By the time they are on to turnips we hope to be able to finish them and push them out as quickly as we can, but we will probably still have more than 1000 to finish after Christmas."

Rather than strip graze turnips, Mr Gibbs prefers to stock more lightly. This reduces wastage – particularly on heavy ground – as fewer turnips are trodden in, he says.

"If we want heavy lambs to finish rapidly, they will be lightly stocked. But we will stock light lambs more tightly; I want lambs to grow a frame and then put on condition – I do not want them to be light and fat."

After the turnips are finished – usually at the end of January – remaining lambs will be finished off fodder beet, potatoes or silage and concentrates.

"We have excess grass this year so ad lib silage will be fed rather than buying-in fodder beet or potatoes. A standard store finisher ration will be fed, depending on when we want the lambs to finish."

If Easter is early, Mr Gibbs will aim to finish as many lambs as possible the week before to take advantage of better prices. But if it is late, he will push lambs on before new seasons lamb comes on to the market.

To ensure as many lambs finish as quickly as possible, maintaining good health is vital, he says.

"Worm control is important; once the gut has been damaged lambs wont finish as well. And protection against pasteurella and clostridial diseases is essential."

Protection against scald and foot rot is also taken seriously at West Tisted Manor. Lambs are foot-bathed regularly using Lincospectin. This works even when lambs walk through the footbath rather than standing in it as required by other footbath solutions, says Mr Gibbs.

"Protection against scald is vital – lambs wont fatten with bad feet."n

Lambs from May lambing Mule and Texel cross ewes at West Tisted will be finished from September onwards.

Shepherd Adrian Gibbs says maintaining good health – particularly controlling worms and scald – is vital for successful lamb finishing.

FINISHING MAY LAMBS

&#8226 Weigh and sort at weaning.

&#8226 Clip lighter lambs.

&#8226 Adjust stocking rates.

&#8226 Maintain good health.