Sponges ease early lambing
Sponges and PMS ensure
high conception rates and
plenty of early lambs for one
Worcs producer. But it still
depends on ram power and
ewe condition at tupping.
Jeremy Hunt and Sue Rider
EASIER management at lambing and maximising numbers sold is why one Worcs sheep farm relies on sponges and PMS to achieve early lambing.
About 350 of the 1000 North Country Mules at Elm Farm, Wickhamford, Evesham, lamb early. According to Derrick Daffurn, farming with his daughter and son-in-law Jennifer and Geoffrey Curtis, having early lambers spreads the work-load.
"It eases management and that is important because we do everything ourselves," says Mr Daffurn. Lambing in November/December also frees up shed space for the March lambers.
Mr Daffurn, a pioneer of the sponging technique in 1984, now uses sponges and PMS as part of a controlled breeding programme.
"This enables us to pinpoint within 12 hours when each ewe will lamb." He sees the tighter lambing pattern as the main benefit of using sponges to synchronise heat compared with Regulin implants.
"The implants allow earlier lambing, but only to late December/ January rather than November, and the ewes still lamb over about a month. The tighter lambing using sponges is well worth the extra work."
And because sheep are the farms only enterprise, the family does not find that sponging and injecting, and individually mating ewes in August conflicts with other work.
The 350 early lambers are grouped into batches of 60, with each batch synchronised and mated every four days, explains Mr Daffurn. On day one, sponges are inserted in the first batch at 6am; on day 12, also at 6am, sponges are removed and each ewe injected with 500 units of PMS. Each ewe is then individually mated 48 hours later, at 6am on day 14. She is mated again at noon and at 6pm – three times at six-hourly intervals, says Mr Daffurn.
"When the last tupping is finished, we run tups with the ewes for the next 12 hours. We then remove the tups." He is careful to ensure a ratio of only four ewes to the ram a day.
"Ram power is important, so we also give each ram a 15min rest between each mating to keep him fresh," explains Mr Daffurn.
One ewe is drafted into the service area and one ram joins her. Once the ewe has been served, the used ram moves back round to the holding pens and a new one is used for the next ewe.
Rams are the farms own high indexing Charollais, preferred for their conformation, easy lambing, and early lamb vigour, according to Jennifer Curtis.
Ewes returning are not mated. At 70 days after mating all 350 ewes are scanned. Any barreners go back to the March lambing flock, ensuring that all the ewes in each batch are in lamb.
Conception rates are 90-92% to first service with about 200% lambs born. "About two-thirds scan for twins. Of the remaining third, half are trebles and half singles. We wet foster trebles on to the singles with about 100% success."
Lambing pattern is tightened further at Elm Farm by inducing ewes 144 days after mating to lamb 36 hours later. This means that each batch of 60 ewes lamb within 12 hours of each other; otherwise lambing would be spread over five to seven days, says Mr Daffurn.
"Inducing eases management. We can finish lambing each batch before the next starts," says Mrs Curtis.
"It is easier to stay up for 24 hours if we know it is just for one night, then we have two nights sleep before the next batch starts."
Ewe and lamb welfare is not compromised by inducing, she maintains.
"The biggest fear is that induced ewes wont have enough milk. But because we know exactly when our ewes were mated there is no chance of them not lambing to full gestation or without sufficient milk." Lambs are no smaller or thinner than would otherwise be the case, she adds. *
Early-born lambs at Elm Farm are managed intensively to ensure they are finished in 13-14 weeks to hit the early lamb trade. Feeding and ad-lib barley straw have improved grading, says Derrick Daffurn.