12 May 2000

New season lamb secrets

Producing new season lambs can be a costly business.

On one Worcs unit it is done intensively, but professionally.

James Garner reports

PRODUCING new season lamb can be costly, but one intensive sheep unit at Elm Farm, Wickhamford, is still profitable.

Prices this season may not have been as high as business partners Geoffrey Curtis, Jennifer Curtis and her father Derrick Daffurn had hoped for when its first lambs were sold for £2.70/kg carcass weight. Although flabbergasted by this initial price in mid March, the lamb price has remained fairly static since and has yet to hit the £3/kg mark that many early finishers want.

Last season the partnerships average sale price was £49.50/lamb, which is not far short of the £50/lamb Mr Curtis wants to make a reasonable return. "It costs about £28 to produce a lamb," he says.

This cost includes pregnant mare serum gonadotrophin (PMSG) and sponging costs to synchronise ewes at tupping, plus £1.10/ewe to induce ewes to give birth, ewe and lamb feed and marketing costs.

Currently it sells lambs to two outlets. Initial sales are to Much Meats in Whitney, Oxon, which likes to sell early new season lambs to London food shops, with later lambs going to Southern Counties Fresh Foods, under the Cotswold Quality Lamb banner.

The partners secret to making money lies in a belief that it does the job professionally. "Its what we do and we believe we do it well," says Mr Curtis.

Unsurprisingly, it has a stringent regime to ensure lambs are marketed at the prime time from mid-February through to early May. This starts at tupping when each of the 500 mid-November to mid-December lambing North Country Mule ewes are synchronised using PMSG and sponges in batches of 60 ewes. Charollais rams then serve each group of ewes, with groups served four days apart.

Serving happens twice, once in the morning and once at lunchtime. Then ewes are not introduced to another ram until scanning; any ewes not holding to the tup can then be re-introduced and tupped with the 500-ewe March lambing flock.

This system allows the partnership to stock 1000 ewes on 100ha (247 acres) of grass, something they would never be able to achieve adopting a traditional spring lambing system, says Mrs Curtis.

Other measures are adopted to ensure ewes are lambed in tight groups and for ease of management. For instance, when early lambing ewes are 144 days pregnant they are given an injection at 6pm in the evening to induce birth 36 hours later. This means the whole batch lambs in one night.

"Weve been doing this since the 1980s. It means we have one night up and then two nights in bed.

This year, despite using PMSG, which can lead to many multiple births, they had mainly twins born. Mr Daffurn says they now carefully regulate the PMSG dose to a maximum of 4000iu. Once they cut it down to 3500iu, but this was too low a dose to boost conception rates.

Any groups of triplet lambs have one lamb wet fostered to a single bearing ewe before it gives birth. For this reason all ewes are fed the same amount during pregnancy rather than feeding ewes according to their number of lambs, which is more common.

"We want single ewes to have plenty of milk because they are likely to have to rear twins."

Lambing ewes in batches through November and December and marketing lambs from mid-February to May makes intensive finishing profitable providing the system is run well, says Geoffrey Curtis.

EARLY NEW SEASON LAMB

EARLY NEW SEASON LAMB

&#8226 Intensive indoor finishing.

&#8226 Target carcass weight 18kg-18.5kg.

&#8226 Synchronise lambing into groups.