16 January 1998

Teams ready for lambing

The staff are gearing up for

lambing at Whelan Farms.

Ewes have now been housed

and the scanning results are

encouraging, as

Suzie Horne reports

SCANNING results for the Whelan flock show that ewes are carrying slightly more lambs than last year with an average of 185%, but there are more triplets and fewer twins.

The flock was not winter sheared in the end because advice and the experience of others who have done this was against shearing those in poorer condition.

If these had been left in the wool, it would have defeated one of the aims of the exercise which was to cut down the workload in the early summer.

Ewes came in on Jan 6, which is nine weeks before lambing. As usual the flock has been split into twins, triplets and singles on housing, with thin twins joining the triplets and thin singles being put in with the twins to try and even out condition overall. They are also grouped by lambing date.

For the time being, singles and twins are on ad lib straw while the triplets get silage. Across the flock, a high energy 18% protein cake is being fed at 0.34kg a head a day. From next week feeding will be split according to the number of lambs carried by each group.

Despite having 24cm (16.5in) of rain since the start of November, Mr Kilby is pleased with their condition, but worries that they are too crowded. "If the weather improves, we will put the 200 fittest singles back out. If not, we will have to make some space elsewhere," he says.

The flock was not culled as hard last year as in the previous season, so scanning showed up 50 barreners compared with 35 head last year. These were sold straightaway for £25 a head – just half last years price thanks to the new requirement for removal of the spinal cord in sheep over a year old.

With the flock housed, lambing help has been booked up at roughly the same strength as last year, although not exactly the same team.

Further thought has also been put into plans for reducing post-turnout lamb losses. While there is relatively little that can be done about the foxes – Mr Kilby estimates the population on the farm at around 500 – mismothering was also a problem with shearlings.

This time, instead of ewes and lambs being walked out to grass, sometime through several fields, they will be taken by trailer in lots of 30 ewes at a time straight to their pasture.

"We also aim to spend a lot more time out there check-ing sheep in the field than in the past," says Mr Kilby.

While post-turnout losses were the main problem last year, Mr Kilby is also keen to reduce losses at lambing. But with ewes lambing in four separate buildings, there are inevitably the odd ones which get missed, especially at night. However, the problem is not significant enough to increase night cover from the planned one person.

In the dairy, further improvements in yield have brought the rolling average to 7464 litres a cow and the likelihood is that the herd will finish the year around 2% over quota rather than the 1% anticipated last month.

So, the 25,000 litres of 3.75% butterfat quota which was leased in shortly before Christmas at 7.5p/litre will not cover the overshoot. As a further measure, cake for some of the in-calf cows giving less than 25 litres/day and which are 100 to 150 days into their lactation will be cut back.

"I dont want to cut back fresh-calvers and we have culled everything that we need to until March, so there is no potential there," says Mr Kilby.

Margins are still improving thanks to the gradual realisation of genetic potential, good summergrazing conditions putting minimal stress on the cows, and fewer calving problems.

The cost of scanning this year was 47p a ewe, says farm manager Robert Kilby (right), seen here with Richard Chantler.

FARM FACTS

&#8226 A 649ha (1604 acre) arable, dairy and sheep holding owned by John Whelan and farmed by Sentry Farming.

&#8226 Chalky soil with some clay over chalk in Kent.

&#8226 356ha (880 acres) mixed combinable crops, including non-rotational set-aside.

&#8226 Dairy herd currently stands at 195 cows averaging just over 6500 litres.

&#8226 1300 ewes lambing mid-March, mainly Mules, some Scotch half-breds.

&#8226 Six full-time staff.

Scanning results for Whelan farms flock

Barreners Singles Twins Triplets %

Old ewes (238 head) 15 73 137 13 162

Main flock (856 head) 35 126 562 133 193

Shearlings (274 head) 0 58 208 8 182

Whole flock 1368 head) 50 257 907 154 185