12 May 2000


Success in marketing

spring-born lambs hinges

on avoiding the summer

fall in prices and demands

a planned approach to

finishing. Sue Rider reports

PLANNED finishing and marketing of lambs will be crucial to maximising returns at Moulton College, Moulton, Northants, this season.

Farms manager, Mark Robins, recognises the need for rapid lamb growth to bring as many lambs as possible to market before the summer fall in values.

His drive to get March-born lambs away as soon as possible is fuelled by the knowledge that he can no longer rely on high store values come the autumn.

Independent sheep consultant, Lesley Stubbings, says: "When store prices were high, it did not matter so much when some lambs failed to finish before the summer price drop." But with prices now down to £20-£22 for stores, tackling variable costs will have little affect, as overhead structures are such that store lambs will be sold for a loss at these low prices.

"It is more important than ever that you control when your lambs are ready for market, rather than letting them finish as they want," she adds.

Mr Robins, who took over as farms manager at Moulton college 18 months ago, is ever mindful of this, and aims to bolster future returns by planning the finishing stage more carefully. "We need to market lambs rather than just selling them," he says.

Some 300 of the colleges 800 North Country Mule ewes lamb from the first week of January. Their lambs are weaned at six weeks, and finished intensively with the aim to sell as many as possible during April and early May.

Remaining ewes lamb in the first three weeks of March. Most of this spring lamb crop – the twins born before Mar 17 – will be creep fed to facilitate early marketing from mid-May to the end of June/early July.

Additional outlay

At this time, Ms Stubbings suggests that, based on last seasons prices, a 40kg lamb should be worth £37-£38. "Thats £11-£12 above what it would fetch later in the summer for an additional outlay of £5 a lamb on creep feed."

Early March born singles will be finished off grass, hopefully by mid-May; lambs born after Mar 17 have been castrated and will be finished off grass before the price dip or stored to be finished early in winter.

Creep feeding the early March born lambs for the early season lamb market is essential at Moulton, where the light sandy soils are drought prone, and forage becomes short mid-season. But success with the system depends on maintaining high stocking rates to encourage creep intakes.

"Much of how well creep fed lambs perform is down to grazing management," says Ms Stubbings. "The big mistake many producers make when creep feeding lambs is to run too low a stocking rate; the lambs eat grass in preference to creep which they must be encouraged to take to push them on."

She suggests running a stocking rate of 15-25 ewes a hectare (6-10/acre). Deciding on the optimum for the farm will depend on grass growth rates and ability to maintain that stocking potential with nitrogen applications.

Aiming for a 4-6cm sward is ideal. "Sheep do well on comparatively short swards. The nutritive value is likely to be high whereas under-grazing can be counter-productive, reducing D value and palatability."

Cattle or dry ewes could be introduced to increase grazing pressure when grass becomes too tall, but management is less flexible when grass is short.

"Avoid the temptation to reduce stocking rates. This will only encourage lambs to eat grass, not creep, causing growth rates to fall and you will loose that early marketing opportunity. Be confident enough to stick with it," she adds.

As important as stocking tightly is introducing creep from the outset. "Plan to do it from day one; it is much more difficult to get them to take creep later on."

Mr Robins aims to keep creep fresh and constantly on offer. "The lambs wont eat much until they reach four to six weeks old, so provide small amounts but enough so that when they start eating more you can increase supply at the correct time.

Caught out

"Many producers get caught out and when lambs suddenly start wanting more creep and there is not enough for them."

But there is a health warning to go with high stocking rates on creep systems, as coccidiosis can be a disease risk.

Mr Robins has tried to group lambs of similar ages together to reduce risk of infection, and because coccidiosis has not been a concern in the main flock, he has not put a coccsidiostat in the creep.

He plans to keep a particularly close watch on lambs at the critical four to eight-week-old stage when tell-tale signs of coccidiosis – scour and ill-thrift – could occur.

Lambs will be weighed and their conformation checked weekly from mid-May for marketing as soon as possible to secure a high sale value. &#42


&#8226 Avoid price trough.

&#8226 Creep from day one.

&#8226 High stocking rate.

&#8226 Avoid price trough.

&#8226 Creep from day one.

&#8226 High stocking rate.

Grazing management is one of the keys to fast growing creep lambs. Keep stocking rates high, says Lesley Stubbings

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