7 March 1997

Staying alive tips for lambs out-of-doors

IMPROVING lamb survival increases production and the welfare image of UK sheep production.

MLC sheep strategy manager, Stewart Hall, says last years BSE crisis increased home lamb consumption, which created a shortfall in exports.

"UK lamb production could, therefore, be safely increased to fill this shortfall," says Mr Hall.

He claims outdoor lambing is a key area where lamb survival could be improved and is the subject of a new MLC handbook. In addition to guides on lamb survival, the handbook offers advice on drift and set-stocked lambing and their suitability to different sites.

"Some or all of the points from these systems may be useful to outdoor lambers. But, in particular, their effect on better bonding between ewe and lamb is a key.

"Better bonding ensures lambs feed better, improving survival and growth rates. It also makes shepherding easier because lambs will follow their mothers more readily," says Mr Hall

Set-stocked systems

John Vipond, Scottish Agricultural College sheep specialist and author of the booklet says both drift and set-stocked systems focus more on working with nature, rather than trying to control the whole process, which tends to happen with indoor lambing.

"Drift lambing is popular for May lambing, but there are points which producers lambing earlier may be able to adopt. The system involves two fields – for day and night – with ewes being moved between the two," he says.

Ewes which have lambed will stay in their lambing spot and are left to bond with their lambs for at least 10 hours. The rest are moved to the other field. The ewes and lambs can then be picked up and transported, or driven through to another field.

"The system can be broken by bad weather, so a sheltered field is vital. In flocks lambing earlier than May, concentrates may need to be fed, which adds to the workload, although snack feeders may work well. Where feeding is tricky, the more traditional set stocking system may be better," says Mr Vipond.

&#8226 For copies of the Outdoor Lambing handbook contact MLC on 01908-844396.