13 March 1998

Output is key

to ewe profit

Selling more lambs a ewe,

whilst controlling costs,

means more profit for one

Oxon sheep producer.

Sue Rider reports

HIGH output a ewe and low variable costs a kg lamb produced are the route to maximising profits for one Oxon sheep farmer.

Stephen Hart places much emphasis on high output a ewe – his total output, net of replacement costs, was £108 a ewe in 1996 (see table). This compares with an average total output of £85 a ewe for 10 larger flocks in the local Signet costed group.

The figures earned Mr Hart, who is convinced of the need to maximise output while controlling costs, top sheep accolade in last years MLC livestock awards.

He recognises that when lamb prices fall the temptation is to cut costs – but that is difficult in the sheep industry. The big variable is always output, and the challenge is to maximise the value and number of lambs sold, he maintains.

That is why most of his 1000-ewe flock at 546ha (1350-acre) Hammonds Farm, Checkendon, are the highly prolific Hartline – bred by Mr Hart over the last 20 years.

Having improved the genetic potential and prolificacy of his flock, Mr Hart aims to exceed 190% lambs reared a ewe to ram and has near enough achieved this over the last 20 years, with 200% in 94 and 95. In this time his lowest % lambs reared to ewes tupped has been 182%.

"Every single we send out is a disaster," says Mr Hart, who argues that even 1.7 lambs reared a ewe tupped leaves little chance of profit.

He suggests that a ewe rearing a single loses about £16 in an average year. Twins make about £13 a ewe, and triplets £40, but ewes rearing no lambs at all due to barrenness, abortion or lambs born dead or died later lose £45-80, depending on age.

Closing the flock helps in the latter respect, says Mr Hart. It cuts the risk of introducing disease and minimises barren ewe numbers and replacement costs. It has also enabled him to eradicate foot-rot and avoid scab and other unpleasant diseases, he says, such as caseous lymphadenitis (CLA) and maedi visna. This has benefited sheep welfare and saved on labour and drug costs.

Mr Hart also believes the high health status helps reduce lamb mortality. "We have fewer weak lambs," he says.

But securing high output a ewe also depends on first class shepherding.

"You must be prepared to have a system which cuts mortality at lambing time. Running the closed flock helps, he argues. But the fact that shepherd Stephen Atkinson is a stickler for detail is a key reason for maximising lambs reared, adds Mr Hart.

The flock is big enough to justify 24-hour supervision, but Mr Atkinson believes its vital everyone adheres to a strict routine in the lambing shed. "We keep the system as simple as possible," he says.

But maximising the gross margins a ewe also depends on keeping variable costs low, maintains Mr Hart. Having a high health status flock helps in this respect; but he also minimises purchased feed costs. This depends on silage quality. "The best silage – fed in the run up to and after lambing – must be at least as good as any dairy farmers, with 70 D-value if possible."

Mr Hart can then restrict concentrate feeding in the run up to lambing and ewes receive a maximum of 0.5kg a head a day with purchased feed costs pegged at £5.81 a ewe last year, and expected to be nearer £4 a ewe this year.

Concentrate feeding starts five weeks before lambing, at 0.1kg a ewe but this is gradually stepped up to 0.5kg closer to lambing. "We dont scan the ewes, as most are multiples, and so feeding is according to lambing date, although thinner ewes receive extra."

Concentrate contains 26% sugar beet pulp, providing 12 ME and 18% protein. "Sheep are ruminants and I dont like to see them eating too much cereal."

Mr Hart is particularly careful about how the concentrate is fed. "Im quite fussy about how to feed concentrate to ewes to ensure that even the shyest feeders receive what they need."

This means that ewes are trough fed in a separate area near their pens. Each group is let into the feeding area once the troughs are full. Closer to lambing concentrate ration is split into two feeds – this further safeguards feed intakes and makes it easier to pick up anything that is off colour.

"At lambing time this is very useful, and it also gives the ewes plenty of exercise."

MAXIMISING GROSS MARGINS

&#8226 High output a ewe and lamb value.

&#8226 Growth rates.

&#8226 Control costs where possible.

Hammonds Farm: Gross margin summary 1996 (£/ewe)

Output

Lamb sales and valuations 94.6

Wool 3.38

Ewe premiums 19.51

Gross receipts 117.48

Flock maintenance costs -9.90

Total output 107.58

Variable costs

Ewe feed (drought year – normal £4-5) 10.14

Grass and forage 5.17

Vet and med 8.93

Others 5.45

Total variable costs 29.69

Gross margin/ewe 7.89

Gross margin/forage ha 723

Variable costs/kg carcass sold 0.83

Gross margin/kg carcass sold 2.19

High-quality grass silage enables Stephen Hart (above) to reduce reliance on costly purchased feeds.

Hammonds Farm: Gross margin summary 1996 (£/ewe)


Output

Lamb sales and valuations 94.6

Wool 3.38

Ewe premiums 19.51

Gross receipts 117.48

Flock maintenance costs -9.90

Total output 107.58

Variable costs

Ewe feed (drought year – normal £4-5) 10.14

Grass and forage 5.17

Vet and med 8.93

Others 5.45

Total variable costs 29.69

Gross margin a ewe 7.89

Gross margin/forage ha 723

Variable costs/kg carcass sold 0.83

Gross margin/kg carcass sold 2.19

BETTER GROSS MARGINS

&#8226 High output a ewe and lamb value.

&#8226 Growth rates.

&#8226 Control costs where possible.