Ditch sentiment, cull hard
Reducing labour costs while maintaining high livestock
productivity were key topics at this years Royal Welsh
Show. Marianne Curtis reports
WITH the differential between cull ewe prices and replacement breeding stock at its lowest level ever, this autumn presents an ideal time to cull hard and introduce younger, more productive animals to flocks.
Commenting on calculations published in Intervets Managing Your Replacement Ewes booklet, launched at the Royal Welsh Show, independent consultant Lesley Stubbings urged flockmasters to be less sentimental in their culling policy.
"There is a temptation to give older ewes another chance because they are only worth £5-£10 but as replacement shearlings are only averaging £40/head the difference between purchase and sale price has never been smaller."
The relative cheapness of replac-ements provides an ideal opportunity to cull hard, said Ms Stubbings. "On average, 10% of ewes will fail to rear lambs because of old age, lax culling or early deaths due to infectious disease. Of these 1-2% will be genuinely barren, but problems relating to old age will account for a high proportion of the rest."
Even when only 1% of ewes are unproductive the unit cost of production increases by 6-7p/kg deadweight or £1.75/ewe which represents a £1750 reduction in output for a 100-ewe flock, said Ms Stubbings.
With flocks growing to spread labour costs the benefits of younger, less troublesome ewes will become increasingly important. "Staff can only cope with higher numbers of ewes if they are trouble free – old ewes soak up time and effort. Keeping them is like playing a game of Russian roulette and has a negative effect on flock productivity."
But a significant proportion of flocks may decide to cut costs by culling but not replacing ewes this autumn, according to MLC sheep scientist Jenny Anderson.
"A recent MLC survey shows that 17% of producers have decided to reduce flock size with the aim of getting more lambs from a smaller number of ewes. More farmers are now working with their vets to improve sheep fertility."
Many flocks are selenium deficient which has a negative effect on both ewe and tup fertility, she said. "Consider blood sampling ewes now; you only need to sample six or seven which costs about £40.
It is also wise to begin the process of getting ewes in the correct condition for tupping, advises Dr Anderson. "Ewes which have had twins will be naturally thinner and unless they receive adequate nutrition to allow them to reach condition score 2.5 or 3 by tupping, they may only produce a single next year."
Less sentimental culling and introducing healthy replacement ewes will improve flock productivity, say Graham Webster and Lesley Stubbings.
• Cull hard.
• Replacements cheap.
• Raise ewe productivity.