How to squeeze every penny from your sheep

In the UK there is a big gap in terms of cost of production and efficiency between sheep producers in the top and bottom 25%.

Vet and sheep breeder Ian McDougall offers some practical advice on getting more from less.

Area of improvement

How to do it

Ram productivity

  • Check ram mating capacity – AHDB Beef and Lamb data shows British farmers use one ram to 45-50 ewes and some average two seasons serving 30 ewes a year.
  • Switching to a breed with a higher mating capacity, such as the New Zealand Romney, could improve this to 70-100 ewes in 35 days for four seasons.
  • Calculate the ram cost per lamb slaughtered (ram purchase price divided by the number of lambs sired in a lifetime). Commercial flocks should target £1.50-£2 a lamb, while for replacement lambs the cost can double.

Flock health and biosecurity

  • The biggest danger to a sheep is another sheep – a self-replacing flock has greater biosecurity. Quarantine new arrivals to get rid of internal and external parasites and foot-bath them.
  • A healthy flock requires less labour – vaccinate and agree a flock health plan with your vet.

Labour costs

  • Labour accounts for 15-25% of total costs for British lowland flocks, but just 10-11% in New Zealand.
  • Keep ewes in good condition – this directly affects the amount of work required to manage the flock. Do a body condition score (BCS) at weaning and scanning and take action – reducing the number of ewes in the flock under BCS 2.5 from 15% to 5% increases gross margin a hectare by 15%.
  • Make full use of EID – speed up stock tasks, identify superior ewes as lambs can be linked to their mothers. Calculate weight of lambs weaned by each ewe and mate the best to a dam line sire for replacements.
  • Invest in sheep handling systems to safely expand flock size.
  • Good sheepdogs can save thousands in wages each year.


  • Preparation and planning prevents poor performance.
  • Combine tasks so sheep are handled less.
  • Consider using subcontractors for certain stock tasks.


Ewes should have:

  • Low-input genetics – grass-based not cereal-assisted
  • Worm and foot-rot resistance or resilience
  • Ability to lamb easily and outdoors
  • Low dag score and hardiness.

Rams must sire lambs:

 How to achieve this:

Without big heads or shoulders that get up and feed moments after birth

  • Adopt management practices that are similar to those of the clients. 
  • Sell rams from the farm.
  • Do not feed up rams with cereals prior to sale. 
  • Performance record.
  • Run large flocks (more than 300 ewes) 
  • Cull ruthlessly for lameness, dags, large heads and shoulders.

With a decent birth coat and no dags

Resilient to worms and foot-rot

That are fast-growing off grass alone

With a reasonable carcass finishing at 40kg

See more