Retaining large numbers of store lambs until late in the New Year in the hope of improved prices will inevitably be self defeating.
This is according to EBLEX beef and sheep scientist, Liz Genever, who says store lambs should be marketed as soon as they are ready.
It is essential to maximise income and market store lambs in an orderly fashion to guarantee farmers a return, agrees ADAS sheep consultant Kate Philips.
“Clear feed budgeting and maintaining healthy stock, free from disease that may limit production is key.”
To maximise efficiency, store lambs should be split into groups according to weight so finishing can be targeted, says Dr Genever. “By selecting animals when they arrive on farm or when they move from breeding to store groups, farmers can be more efficient with their time and have specific feed priorities.
“Stores should be split into groups of animals weighing above 35kg, between 30-35kg and below 30kg to fit into the three basic finishing systems; short, medium and long keep.”
Store lambs can then be fed accordingly. “It is all about cost control. When there is a premium in the market and you are six to eight weeks away from finishing, it may be justifiable to feed concentrates.”
But farmers should make the most out of home-grown forages or arable by-products, introducing concentrates carefully as bulk feed stocks decline and before growth rates suffer.
“Short-keep animals six weeks from finishing need to put on 140-160g/day to reach target weight.” When forage crops are not available and grass is poor, then it is worth while using concentrates.
For medium-keep stock, eight to 10 weeks from finishing, should gain 90-110g/day. “In this case, the most effective system would include rearing on a diet of forage crops, arable by-products and some concentrates.”
And when stock are more than 10 weeks from finishing, animals only need to gain 80-100g/day, so can be fed on a forage crop, with sparing use of concentrates.
In some cases, keeping lambs on longer may be more efficient, says John Vipond, sheep specialist at SAC.
When finished on grass, there is the potential for a 10% increase in carcass weight if lambs are put through the store period and finished later, he says. “This could give an extra £6-7/lamb.”
“By allowing lambs to go to a heavier weight, it is like having an extra one lamb in 20,” he says.
But this is only effective if you can rear lambs cheaply. “The question is, have you got resources that otherwise may have been wasted, such as cattle pasture? If so, you could potentially get something for nothing.”
When looking at kilograms of dry matter eaten versus kilograms of lamb produced, this may not be an effective means of finishing lambs, unless you can rear them cheaply.
And brassicas offer a cost-effective feed option for store lambs and ewes. “There is no cheaper crop than turnips put in after cereals,” he says.
“When you’ve got the acres available, turnips put in without fertiliser offer a cheaper crop than grass.”