10 May 1996

weeks a year

To market 52

Finishing early lambs outdoors has reduced disease and cut costs for one Shropshire partnership. Rebecca Austin reports

SALOP farming partners Jim and Richard Roberts aim to market lambs every week of the year to maintain a constant cash flow.

The 300-head early lambing flock at Lydebrook Farm, Telford, starts producing in early January and finishes four weeks later. There is then a months gap before the rest of the 1300 Mule-based flock lambs down at 200 ewes a fortnight.

Early lambs, which average 170% lambs born, are finished outside on land which is then ploughed for maize in the spring. The first batch were sold on April 2 at 38kg lw. Some lambs made £84 each in a market which had been turned on its head by the BSE crisis.

Ewes and lambs are turned out 24 to 48 hours post-lambing in batches of 10, which are put into two groups of 150 each. The 24ha (60-acres) is either set-aside or winter barley stubble. It will have been sown down with rape, stubble turnips the previous year.

Round bales are stored around the headland and act as shelter, where ewes are also fed and creep feeders sited.

The early-lambing flock fits in well with the 267 arable hectares (660-acres), says Jim Roberts who farms a total 930ha (2300-acres) and milks 300 cows in partnership with his brother Richard. "We have 648ha (1600-acres) of grass on open-cast coal sites which are slow to start growing in the spring, but have a good flush in the autumn. The clay land is too heavy for cattle so we buy in stores when there is too much grass at the back end. And using the arable land at the beginning of the year allows us to sell lambs on the early market."

The early flock is housed in mid-December. Ewes are lambed individually so lambs can be tagged and their dams tags recorded. They are offered creep within a week. This costs £160/t and contains Deccox as heavy land means lambs tend to get mucky, thereby increasing the risk of coccidiosis. By the time they are ready to go at 36 to 38kg, lambs will be eating 0.9kg of creep a day (2lbs/day). Ewes are offered 0.7kg/day (1.5lb) of £130/t home-mix while lactating. This consists of oats, beet pulp and a 34% crude protein pre-mix.

The meticulous record keeping comes to the fore when sorting lambs. Tag numbers are taken of every lamb weighed and fit to sell. This enables the Roberts to sort out the corresponding mothers which are removed to another field so no supplement is wasted on them. And any ewe with bad teeth or udder will be sold with her lambs.

"Lambing 100 more ewes than we have quota means we can sell any culls before the end of the retention period," explains Mr Roberts. "The sorting system may seem very labour intensive, but the labour cost will be saved within two days by not feeding those ewes."

The Roberts use Signet to keep an eye on the enterprises viability. Last years costings are detailed in the table. This will be the first time high index rams have sired lambs and Mr Roberts expects to see improvements in both conformation and growth rate.

"You must try and have the best lambs because, wherever the market is, a better lamb is worth 15p/kg more in premium. Nearly 90% of stock is sold deadweight to ABP, Shrewsbury, where lambs kill out at 18kg to 20kg dw in the top three grades.

Later-born lambs, which average 185% born, receive no creep but follow the same finishing system as the early flock. Orphans are sold at the market for about £17 each.

"Finishing the early lambs outdoors means there is less disease and it is cheaper than fattening them in a shed," concludes Mr Roberts.


Early lambing flock 1995 gross margins


Gross margin a ewe68.01

Gross margin/ha1,419.00

Flock gross margin1,5030.00

&#8226 Lambs offered creep feed within a week.

&#8226 Lactating ewes fed 0.7kg/day home-mix.

&#8226 High index rams used to improve growth.

Jim Roberts:"Finishing our early lambs outdoors reduces disease and is a cheaper operation than fattening in a shed."