31 August 2001

More of the same – flockmasters

By Marianne Curtis

DESPITE one of the poorest economic periods in the history of sheep production, a recent survey shows few flockmasters sticking with sheep intend to change the way enterprises are run.

Conducted by animal health company, Novartis, the survey covered 400 hill, lowland and upland flocks across England, Scotland and Wales before the foot-and-mouth crisis. In terms of flock size, 62% of breeding ewes were found in flocks with between 200 and 999 ewes. Largest enterprises, with more than 1000 ewes, represented 17% of hill, 7% of upland and 3% of lowland flocks.

Survey respondents were asked about future intentions, according to Lynda Maris, Novartis project services manager. "The most surprising aspect of the survey was that more than 70% of producers intended to continue with the same approach to input costs. No matter what business you are in, it is essential to think long term and change when necessary."

Broken down by enterprise, 20% of hill, 13% of upland and 14% of lowland producers intended to reduce inputs. "Hill enterprises seem to be feeling the pinch more, possibly because they have fewer alternatives for land use. In lowland areas it may be possible to increase arable area or diversify."

The biggest areas identified for cost saving by hill and lowland producers were feed and labour. However, as well as labour, a large percentage of upland flockmasters intended to cut back on internal and external parasiticides.

"Simply cutting out medicines is the classic route taken when money is short. There is also a temptation to increase the length of time between treatments, but this can be a dangerous strategy in terms of animal health."

On animal health issues, the survey found that where labour is at a premium and there is no scab threat, pour-ons are preferred to dips for blowfly treatment. "Overall, 91% treated lambs against blowfly, with 57% using a pour-on. Pour-on users represented 46% of producers routinely treating for scab and lice. But of producers not treating for scab and lice, 80% used a pour-on," says Mrs Maris.

Although dips are cheaper at about 15-20p/animal compared with 50p/animal for pour-ons, there is often an unwillingness to swap cost for convenience, particularly where scab and lice – often treated by dipping – were not perceived to be a problem, she adds.

The survey also looked at lamb productivity. Hill enterprises averaged a lambing percentage of 125 and lowland flocks 159, with 21% of these achieving 180%.

However, for the 2000 lambing period, ewe numbers declined in all areas of the UK compared with the previous year. &#42

SHEEP SURVEY

&#8226 Focus on reducing inputs.

Watch animal health.

Falling ewe numbers.

CONCLUSIONS

&#8226 Focus on reducing inputs.

&#8226 Watch animal health.

&#8226 Falling ewe numbers.