18 September 1998

Old hat ideas add 10%

By James Garner

FORWARD planning and regular handling of ewes means consistent lambing percentages for Glos sheep producers Richard Gale and his brother Gerald.

The Gales run 800 Mule and Suffolk cross ewes on 81 hectares (200 acres) of permanent pasture at Binley Farm, Tetbury, Glocs.

The flock is split in two – an early lambing flock of 250 older ewes and a spring lambing flock of 550 ewes.

"Most of the principles are old hat – we dont have any new ideas. The basics are important and checking ewe condition and reacting to it is essential. Where this is done, it can achieve a 10% improvement in lambing percentage, worth about £4000 in extra lamb sales," says Richard Gale.

Preparation for tupping spring lambers begins in early August, he explains. "Spring lambers are weaned in late July and we expect ewes to be in poor condition having reared pairs. We condition score and handle every ewe in early August, leaving at least 10 weeks to change ewe condition.

Ewes are condition scored. They are split into three groups, fat ewes above condition score 3; thin ewes below this and medium ewes at condition score 3.5.

A leader-follower grazing system means ewe condition is controlled. Thin ewes have access to the best grass. Once moved on, theyre followed by medium condition ewes and then fatter ewes.

"Fat ewes always have the poorest grass. After a month we get them in and handle them again. Often theres a lot of swapping around before theyre turned out into the same grazing pattern for another month," says Mr Gale.

"By October we try to get all ewes off the farm onto new seeds or dairy pastures. Any clean ground we can get our hands on is snapped up. The ewes in poor condition are given the best grass and flushed.

"Where all else fails, poor ewes can have stubble turnips, which we grow as a fall-back. We take a lot of dairy keep but youre never sure when it will be available," he says.

At this time the Gales pick out and cull any thin ewes that havent regained condition before flushing.

"We dont try flushing ewes that are in good condition, say condition score 3.5. They may even stay on permanent pasture. Our priority is other ewes, so they have best quality, clean keep available," says Mr Gale.

"Flushing begins three weeks before tups go in. We dont use any teasers because our lambing period is compact enough. We only drench ewes at turnout after lambing, so we dont do this before tupping either," he says.

After tupping, Mr Gale tries to tries to minimise ewe disturbance and stress.

"We normally budget for 175% lambs reared, this year were a little over this at 186%. This is due to better grass keep and flushing last year," he adds

"This summer weve had more grass growth and ewes are in better condition, meaning fewer are very thin. We will manage ewes in the same way and this should sort them out without risk of over-fatness," he says.

"When flushing this year I might keep ewes tighter and leave them on grazing a bit longer. This should stop them putting on too much condition too early," he says. &#42