Sheep producers need to consider changing system post Brexit

British sheep producers need to address their changing market and consider adopting a system that increases output in order to survive the challenges of Brexit, according to an international consultant.

Bob Abband, who has 25 years’ experience working with flocks in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Iran, believes that the UK needs to move away from the more extensive, low-input, low-cost sheep system and chase output.

“I think the structure of the market in the UK, like everywhere else, is changing,” he told delegates at the National Sheep Association South Sheep event on Saturday 8 September.

“I believe sheep farming is a business and should be profitable through high output. People are running after jobs with high pay. I haven’t seen anyone chase prosperity by going on a hunger strike.”

See also: How breeding for prolificacy can increase profit per ewe

 

Defining output as the number of lambs born, reared and sold, he said that intensive lambing systems could increase output. He also said using more prolific ewes, changing the time of breeding and being strict on replacements could help.

“Don’t compromise production to keep ewes and lambs a long time. The production of a ewe is only about four years,” said Mr Abband.

The three system changes he proposed were:

1. Synchronising

By synchronising in September/October, producers can get a shorter lambing period and uniform growth of lambs that can be sold at the same time.

Mr Abband said farmers should aim for a two-to-three week tupping period and two-to-three week lambing period.

The extra costs incurred would amount to £4-5 a ewe, but these costs can be offset by the advantages, Mr Abband said.

Advantages

Disadvantages

  • Normal breeding and lambing time to use spring grass
  • Better weather conditions for outdoor lambing
  • Short tupping and lambing
  • Better lamb survival due to better control at lambing
  • Uniform growth of lambs
  • Block lamb sale – good sum of cash into the account
  • The cost of synchrony
  • Extra seasonal labour
  • Intense lambing requires better hygiene control due to faster bacterial build-up

2. Advancing lambing to December by synchronisation

By moving lambing to December, producers can target the peak price period for sale. December lambing, for farms that can support indoor lambing, is the quickest way to improve their income, Mr Abband reckoned.

“Between April to early June, you can fetch the highest prices,” he advised.

Advantages

Disadvantages

  • Higher value of sale, selling in April-May market
  • Uniform crop of lambs
  • Intensive tupping and lambing, higher lamb survival due to better supervision, more free time for doing other things
  • Better control of nutritional management for ewe and lambs
  • Indoor lambing facility required
  • Extra seasonal labour if required
  • Extra feed supplement needed for ewes and lambs
  • More rams needed to cope with shorter tupping time – if synchronising, you need one ram for five to 10 ewes. Using AI or batch synchrony can reduce number of rams needed
  • Intense lambing requires better hygiene control due to bacteria build-up

3. Lambing three times in two years

Working on a system of lambing every eight months can maximise the production of the ewe and increase gross margin by about 40%, Mr Abband said.

Based on a gestation period of five months, lactation for two months and one-month break, ewes can produce three lamb crops in two years. 

Advantages

Disadvantages

  • Maximise the use of the ewe’s productive life by producing nine to 10 lambs v six lambs if you are achieving lambing of 150%. Ewes’ productive life is four years
  • More uniform crop of lambs at time of sale
  • Much better gross margin – margin increased by 41%
  • Better cashflow by bringing in large value of sale every eight months on a regular basis
  • Requires more intense reproductive and nutritional management for ewes and lambs to optimise liveweight gain to reach the market size at the age of 120 days post-lambing
  • Not suitable for every farm
  • Requires good indoor facilities
  • Requires plenty of fit and fertile rams
  • Higher annual ewe depreciation
  • Increased variable cost in form of feed supplements and seasonal labour

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