10 April 1998

Keep the numbers

up for max return

CHATSWORTH Farms, near Bakewell, is a big business, which is why farm manager Ian Turner works on the surmise that its operation must be kept simple.

When all enterprises are under financial strain, Mr Turner believes cutting corners to save costs is a false economy. "If you end up with just 1.5 lambs to sell rather than the usual 1.75 because you have fed a poorer quality cake and hence the ewe has suffered, you have got less to sell at the other end," he explains.

In fact, Mr Turner isnt looking to cut costs to increase profits. Instead he aims to maintain ewe productivity. "We aim for the maximum number of lambs sold for the number of ewes run – which over the past five years has averaged at 163%. We also use high quality rams to ensure 19kg deadweight lambs go early at the best grade and price possible."

Correct ewe condition is the cornerstone of the flocks success. As a result, the 3000 Mules and 500 Mashams are fed for lambing from early February. Over a six-week period they start on 0.2kg/day of 18% protein, 12 ME rolls. By housing they are offered 1kg/day, which is fed on the silage as well as in the straw bed. All are wormed prior to housing and vaccinated against clostridial diseases.

Lambing started last week. With 2000 ewes tupped on the first cycle, an efficient and simple system is essential to avoid unnecessary losses. A staff of two shepherds and eight veterinary students ensures 24-hour surveillance which reduces mismothering and improves the success rate of wet fostering. Ewes and lambs are individually penned for 24 hours. They then move into pens of 12 where they are offered hay, rolls and a high energy feed block for another day. If all is well the group is then turned out into small, sheltered fields, which this year are already well grassed because they receive artificial fertiliser during a dry February. High energy feed blocks are then the only form of supplement for both ewes and lambs.

Weaning takes place in late July or early August. Ewes are dried off and after three weeks are back through the pens when four-crops, those with bad bags or mouths are selected for culling.

Ten years of using rams, which have been selected on the strength of growth rate and muscle depth, has also allowed Mr Turner to increase his marketing outlets for lambs. Previously nearly all were sold as stores in September, but as growth rates improved more lambs have finished earlier and hence achieved a better price. At the same time carcass grades are higher so lambs achieve a £3-£4 premium over the average market price.

Selling as many lambs as possible is priority for Chatsworth Farms.

Signet costings for 1997 lambing (£/ewe)

Feed and forage 15.39

Gross Margin 52.93

Vet and Med 4.43Total variable costs 28.34

Consultant viewpoint

"Ian has identified a system which works well," says the farms Signet consultant Maurice Jones. "He has refined it by recording performance then finding faults and areas to improve on. This has kept his eye on the ball so he has never lost sight of the fact that the key to productivity is good numbers of lambs. "Ian has also stuck with a policy of buying a good quality ewe, as well as good rams from flocks which performance record for growth rate and muscle. Between them, this combination results in a premium of about £3-4 a ewe.

"The dairy herd means sheep have access to good quality forage which reduces concentrate costs and controls veterinary costs because the sheep are much healthier and better fed.

"All this doesnt happen by accident. Ian thinks things through and discusses his ideas with advisers as well as attending meetings. He doesnt sit there hoping something happens: He is putting good husbandry into practice."