Building investment means more ewes and higher profits
Early lambing and a new
sheep building hold the key
to better profitability and
flock expansion on one
Norfolk unit as visitors at
last weeks NSA open day
heard. Emma Penny reports
INVESTMENT in a new building, a move to early lambing and careful rationing are allowing one Norfolk family to finish more lambs and boost profitability.
Summer drought and access to only permanent pasture meant a lot of commercial lambs from the March-lambing flock run by the Garner family had to be sold as stores.
But, as Signet consultant James Garner explains, this did not realise the full potential of using high performance sire reference scheme rams bred at the familys 222ha (550-acre) Godwick Hall, Titleshall, Kings Lynn.
"The permanent pasture is good grazing, but not enough to finish lambs. This, combined with hot, dry summers resulted in a large number of lambs being sold as stores."
But with money available for capital investment on the farm, John Garner and his sons Robert and James decided to erect a new livestock building. "Looking at the enterprises return it is difficult to justify the investment, but we have a long-term commitment to sheep production," says John Garner.
At about the same time as the decision was taken, 270 of the 350 Mule ewes were treated with Regulin to bring the breeding season forward for Feb 1 lambing. Of those treated, 230 were in lamb after the first cycle. Ewes which did not take went back into the March lambing flock.
"Earlier lambing will allow us to finish more lambs, targeting sales at May, when we reckon prices will be highest," says James.
Building work was completed at Christmas, and ewes were then moved in, although the Garners would have liked to have had them in sooner.
Once housed, ewes were fed silage before lambing, with ad-lib fodder beet and sugar beet offered after lambing, and a high protein Seameal concentrate supplement for three weeks. While ewes ate about 6.5kg a head a day of roots, Irish research suggests they must eat 14kg a head a day to maintain peak lactation, says John Garner.
"I think finer root chopping, feeding three times a day, and keeping lambs out of troughs to cut spoilage, will increase root intake next season." Even at current feeding levels, the Garners estimate that reliance on roots has helped save about £3 a ewe on concentrates.
At lambing, triplets were fostered on to singles, with the Garners achieving a lambing percentage of 1.83 lambs born alive and 1.78 lambs reared. "Our lambing losses were the lowest ever, probably due to the shed being much more hygienic. We hope to be able to maintain this, as increased output will help the gross margin, particularly when times are lean," says James.
Lambs were weaned at seven weeks old and given free access to fodder beet and sugar beet, with average consumption at about 2kg of roots a head a day. A 16% protein creep was introduced at 10 days.
At nine weeks old, 10% barley was introduced into the creep, now increased to 30% inclusion to boost energy intakes. The family did try to include 40% barley in creep, but found that lambs were reluctant to take creep at this level, possibly due to dust.
"The creep feeders need re-thinking as they are becoming lower in the bedding while lambs become larger. Some entire males which have now grown horns can also become a bit stuck."
Creep intake is estimated to be about 35kg a head so far, and James Garner reckons lambs will take a further 25-30kg to finish. "This is about 10-15kg below normal creep use, and will save about £3.75 a lamb in finishing costs. Creep cost a lamb should be about £9.80, or £17.44 a ewe."
The saving is due to feeding roots, and while James admits that this may slow growth a little, it fits in well with targeting the May market and has still allowed lambs to gain 0.42kg a day in 10 weeks.
The initial draw of finished lambs is due to take place in the first week of May, with 12-week-old 40kg lambs sold deadweight through Dalgety.
Finishing lambs means the Garners get full benefit from the performance potential of their rams, can sell when the market should be at its best, and can also expand their ewe flock to 400 before next lambing. *
Early lambing and new housing means more lambs can be finished at Godwick Hall, allowing ewe numbers to be increased. Inset: John (left) and James Garner believe fodder beet will allow further cost savings.
• Move to earlier lambing.
• Exploit full potential.
• Expand ewe flock.
Projected Godwick Hall costings
Output a ewe £
1.78 lambs reared to 32kg @ 240p/kg dwt 76.80
Total output a ewe 90.55
Replacement costs 8.13
Costs a ewe
Ewe concentrate – 45kg a ewe @ £140/t 6.40
fdr/beet @ £17/t cleaned 2.14
sugar beet @ £15/t 1.89
hay – 50kg/ewe @ £63/t 2.19
silage 200kg/ewe @ £10/t 2.00
Lamb creep – 60kg/lamb 17.44
Vet & med 4.25
Total cost a ewe 39.91
Gross margin a ewe 42.51