Sense & system are his criteria
BEST way to wean lambs comes down to common sense and a system which suits the farm, according to Bill Gibson, Cottesbrooke Estates farm manager.
The 1416ha (3500-acre) unit north of Northampton runs 1115 ewes over 121ha (299 acres) of permanent pasture at a stocking rate of 10 ewes a hectare (4/acre). This year shepherd Stephen Mudd lambed 85 Mule x Suffolk ewes to a Charollais in January, 280 broken mouth Mules to Suffolk and Charollais tups in February and the same rams, as well as some Texels, were used on 750 Mules which lambed over five weeks from Mar 20.
The last group of lambs were weaned two weeks ago. They will run on until September, when the lamb price is traditionally stronger than in mid-summer.
A week to 10 days before weaning, ewes and lambs were shut up tight on stemmy grass so ewes started to become fit but not fat. "This way there is no stress on the ewe as we bring the milk down gently. At the same time the stemmy grass fills her up but keeps the weight off," explains Mr Mudd. "If we didnt do that there is a danger next years lamb crop could go wrong because the ewes wouldnt be in the right condition at tupping. So far lambs have held them back and stocking them tightly cuts off milk production."
This technique means there was no need to bring in ewes post weaning to dry them off. Any ewes with swollen quarters over the days after weaning were injected with the recommended dose of long-acting penicillin and also received half a long-acting antibiotic tube up each teat.
Lambs were moved on to decent grass, and the stress of losing their mothers will check performance for up to three weeks. "They need to be out of call sight, which on this farm is about two miles. You also want to be sure you have good fencing," warns Mr Gibson. "We normally wean in the morning. Not only is it practical but also in the evenings it is quieter and ewes and lambs are able to hear each other more easily. Within 24 hours the ewes have got over losing their lambs and the same can be said for the lambs after three or four days."
The early lambing ewes are wound down after six or seven weeks once they hit peak milk yields. "It is more economical to feed the lamb than to feed the ewe to feed the lamb," says Mr Gibson. "So we wind down the ewe and increase the lamb creep offered."
• 1416ha (3500-acres) including 121ha (299-acres) permanent pasture, 40ha (99-acres) of parkland.
• 300-cow milking herd with all calves kept either for replacements or 18-month beef.
• 890ha (2200-acres) of arable combines a variety of crops, including 50ha (123-acres) forage maize.
• By 1996 aim for a 200-head early lambing flock and 1000 ewes lambing in the spring.
Bill Gibson, farm manager at Cottesbrooke Estate, Northants.