Lambs struggle to finish in grazing shortage

Grass shortages across the country are posing massive challenges to sheep farmers wishing to finish lambs from grass, according to EBLEX livestock scientist Liz Genever.

“When looking at GrassWatch figures it’s clear areas in the north and also south and east are having great difficulties with grass growth, so farmers need to assess their situation and plan accordingly,” she says.

Various options are available where grass is short for grazing lambs and ewes, with age of lambs and volume of grass critical in the decision, explains Dr Genever. “Creep grazing lambs too young to be weaned in a better quality field, by installing a creep gate so they still have access to ewes, can help maximise lamb growth off grass. Strip grazing some of the silage land is also an option,” she adds.

Earlier weaning from 12 weeks of age could also be an option, says ADAS sheep specialist, Kate Phillips. “Weaning may need to be brought forward by a couple of weeks in cases where grass is short. This means ewes can be grazed on poorer quality grass and lambs on better grass for finishing.

Creep feeding lambs is also something Ms Phillips suggests could be an option depending on age and costs. “There may also be some cheap straights on the market that could also be suitable for finishing lambs,” she says.

And because of the delay in peak grass growth this year, which Dr Genever believes will be later and will have lower yields, grass management will have to be good. “Management of re-growth is going to be critical this year, so block or rotational grazing lambs and ewes to protect the re-growth will be vital.”

But farmers growing red clover and chicory for silage may be wondering what all the fuss is about, with both growing well this season. “Where silage has been taken off, these aftermaths also provide an area for grazing lambs.”

Alternative forages may also be an option for finishing lambs later on in the year to ease pressure on grass, explains Limagrain’s Martin Titley. “If someone has taken first cut silage and it is not good, then putting in stubble turnips after first cut and then reseeding in the autumn can bring benefits,” he says.

“Stubble turnips should be ready 12 weeks from sowing, so at the earliest the end of July, with lambs finishing well off them. They also finish well off kale, which when sown in June could be ready late August and could be grazed then or left until later on in the autumn or winter without loosing its feed value.” However, Mr Titley warns both kale and stubble turnips are not the answer to drought.

One drought-resistant crop that could be used for finishing lambs off later in the year is lucerne. “Lucerne when planted in June/July is a great protein feed and is drought tolerant, although it does need to be on free-draining soil. This can be cut and baled and fed as a high-protein feed to sheep in winter,” he says.

• To monitor how grass is growing across the regions visit our dedicated GrassWatch page.