Vital to secure sheep stock supply

Sheep producers are being urged to contact past breeding stock and store lamb suppliers to agree terms for the sale and possible feeding of stock to minimise the impact of movement restrictions on tupping and finishing programmes and secure next season’s lamb crops.

That is the plain advice from advisers, auctioneers and breed societies coming to terms with the restrictions imposed at the start of the busiest six weeks of the sheep calendar.

ADAS consultant Owen Davies says producers need to act on two fronts grassland management and securing stock sales or purchases. “Although many lowland farms are carrying good swards, the situation for many upland farms is bleak.

“Time is running out, but some improved grassland could benefit from a small application of fertiliser – say, 30 units/acre – to prolong growth. If that’s already started to decline and there are adequate stocks of even mediocre forage, consider housing cattle early and allowing more area for sheep as an interim measure,” he suggests.

Those who harvested whole-crop cereals could, in some areas, drill fast-growing grass mixes to get a late bite, he adds.

Allowing lamb condition to wane will cost more in the long run, warns MLC’s Duncan Pullar. “Keep pushing lambs even at the expense of ewe condition. Older ewes are more tolerant of changes in body condition than lambs.

“Those hoping to lamb in March and April next year have a three- to six-week window in which to hope and see a return of farm-to-farm movements to ease the backlog.”

But breeding programmes can be kept on track. Breed societies and auctioneers were this week liasing between vendors and buyers to have sheep sold ahead of any easing of movement restrictions.

With 30,000 ewe lambs scheduled to pass through Hawes Mart’s ring this week before a ban came into force, auctioneer Andrew Pratt has been kept busy manning the phones. “If we can marry vendors with buyers we will do so.”

Robin Hulme, commercial director of the Suffolk Sheep Society, said the organisation was hoping to provide details of breeders with stock to sell to commercial flocks registered on the British Wool Marketing Board’s contacts list.

Some producers had already acted. Charlie Armstrong in Northumberland has agreed to buy ewe lambs for breeding. “My concern is DEFRA may only allow hauliers to do single-farm loads rather than multiple pick-ups. At £1000 a time to bring stock up from Wales, it means it’ll pay to agree a larger purchase off one supplier.

“We may also have to look at agreeing terms for feeding stock to maintain body condition if movement restrictions aren’t eased.”

Mr Davies says producers could also agree to pay for breeding ewes to be vaccinated on vendors’ farms so they are ready to go to the tup on arrival. “Some vaccines have to be given three weeks ahead of tupping, so it’s time in hand,” he argues.

Tups will also need more care if replacements are not accessible, say advisers. “Teeth, toes and testicles will need attention,” adds Dr Pullar. “There’s some evidence dominant tups in good condition can cover 60-70 ewes. Longer term be prepared for the possibility of a prolonged lambing season next year.”

Although lambing is some way off, the most immediate concern should be getting lambs fit and ready to go, adds Mr Owen. “Draw lambs as regularly as you can. This will reduce the demand for feed and will be beneficial in the longer term,” he adds.


Easing sheep woes

  • Draw prime lambs weekly
  • Consider housing cattle
  • Contact suppliers and buyers
  • Agree terms for interim care