27 November 1998

Top-quality lambs all-year-round – no mean achievement

By Jeremy Hunt

MAINTAINING year-round production of prime lamb from 1000 Texel-cross ewes means lambing eight-times-a-year and a strict feeding regime on one Cumbrian sheep unit.

Jim Hadwins entire crop of 2000 three-quarter Texel-cross prime lambs is now sold under his own Mansergh Hall Lamb brand. He supplies leading restaurants as far away as London and meets an expanding market from customers at the farm shop near Kirkby Lonsdale.

Demand is expanding at such a rate that ewe numbers may have to be doubled and another unit is being sought to supply replacement gimmers already.

"Feeding, breeding and marketing have been key elements to the setting up of Mansergh Hall Lamb," said Mr Hadwin, who hosted a Pye Farm Feeds open day.

"Marketing my own lamb was one of my ambitions. In our first season, five years ago, we sold 50 lambs between October and February. Now we have doubled our ewe numbers and for every lamb sold off the farm we receive a minimum price set at the beginning of each year."

About 60% of lambs are sold through an agent, Cornvale Foods, to leading hotels and restaurants. Over 600 lambs are retailed through the farm shop with the rest sold by mail order and to other butchers shops in Cumbria.

"To ensure we can supply lambs of a consistent quality 52 weeks of the year we must have a strict feeding strategy for both ewes and lambs.

"We see every lamb from birth until the time it is being cut-up in the shop, so we are as close as possible to making sure the feed is producing lambs of consistent high quality.

"Meeting the dietary protein needs of our ewes is critical and ensures we can produce quality lambs all year round."

Mr Hadwin, who personally butchers all his own lambs, said there is more to feeding ewes than simply pushing in a high protein concentrate.

"It must contain the right sort of protein. Our performance is achieved by feeding a ration with a by-pass protein, based on a blend of amino acids and not from fishmeal," said Mr Hadwin, who is a member of Freedom Foods.

Ewes are fed an 18% protein ration for eight weeks before lambing after which the protein content is increased to 19%. When the oldest lambs in a group are two weeks old and the youngest one week old feed protein is lifted to 21%.

This is maintained for three weeks – any longer and high milk yield can depress lamb creep intake – and then stepped down to 19% and back to 18%.

All ewes and lambs from the eight groups are turned out 24 hours after lambing, weather permitting. Fodder beet and silage is also offered to winter lambers.

"We want ewes to milk like dairy cows. In fact, when you compare the body size of sheep and cows, ewes are probably more efficient milk producers on this type of diet."

Some lambs are bought-in to meet demand in the early spring months before the first home-bred lambs are ready in April.

The target finishing weight is 19.5kg. Lambs are achieving daily liveweight gains up to 1kg a day at a feed conversion of 3:1.

"Feeding and management must be right to supply 30 to 40 top quality lambs a week. Our trade depends on consistent quality. And by lambing in May we are producing lambs to sell in January and February which we consider are as good as spring lamb."

MAKE the most of low priced sheep feeds this winter and, remember, every three lambs saved will pay for another 1t of concentrate.

"Although sheep producers may be tempted to cut feed costs this winter, they should remember that at current feed prices it only costs £2.50 to feed a lowland twin-bearing ewe concentrates from mid-pregnancy," said John Long of Pye Farm Feeds.

Poor grass quality in autumn and the wet weather had taken condition off ewes. Flockmasters should condition score each ewe once a month. All in-lamb ewes should be at least in condition score 2.5.