Ensure creep is appetising

19 March 1999

Close attention to detail boosts lamb finishing

Maintaining growth rate of

January-born lambs in the

face of bad weather is the

challenge for this seasons

early lambing flocks.

Jeremy Hunt reports

LAST years late January lambers left a margin of £61 a head for Robert Gregory who produces over 700 Charollais-sired lambs at Edstaston Hall, Wem, Shropshire. He has every intention of achieving an equally high figure this year, despite the weather.

Heavy rain has taken its toll on many early lambing flocks this spring but Mr Gregory believes that with a strict management regime, it will still be possible to achieve an average growth rate of 350g/day from birth to slaughter.

The 380 Suffolk x Mule ewes, run alongside 120 Holstein Friesian milkers and a flock of 50 pedigree Charollais ewes, achieved 177% lambs sold last year. The entire crop is sold deadweight by early June aiming for an 18-20kg carcass giving a finishing period from birth to slaughter of 10-18 weeks.

"The target is to get most lambs away by the third week of May at 18.5-19.5kg deadweight before the price starts to drop. We never see an O carcass, most are U at 2 and 3L, and we were three-quarters through the season last year before our killing out percentage fell below 50%," says Mr Gregory.

Ewes are housed in two groups – depending on tupping date – starting just before Christmas and fed a 16.7% protein home-mix ration of barley, beet pulp, soya, fat balancer and minerals with a coccidiostat plus high quality hay.

Ewes and lambs are turned out within five or six days of lambing. Feed to ewes with singles is maintained after turnout at 0.3kg-0.5kg/ewe/day; ewes with twins are usually fed up to 0.9kg/ewe/day but this years ample grass growth has enabled it to be reduced to 0.7kg/ewe/day.

The flock achieved the £61 margin last year from 747 lambs sold at an average price of £49.90. Lower feed costs and an increase in ewe premium will help this years final figure.

To reduce pasture spoilage caused by bad weather the flock is spread over more acres this year with the intention of tightening up in late March. But close attention to detail and regular shepherding are key elements of a system that depends on achieving maximum lamb growth rate.

Mr Gregory believes higher feed intakes – and growth rates – are achievable with coarse-mix lamb creep feed, particularly when the ingredients are highly palatable.

The creep feed used at Edstaston Hall contains the same ingredients as ewe feed but with slightly higher soya levels and Deccox at twice the inclusion rate. The protein content is 17.8% and lamb mineral is included to prevent urinary calculii.

"A home mixed ration allows you to fine-tune the diet as the season progresses," says Mr Gregory.

Great care is taken with creep feeders. Lambs are bedded daily with straw to provide a comfortable lying area and any feed that has become soiled is cleaned from the hopper trough regularly.

"Its no use just topping up the hoppers; its vital to keep feed fresh in troughs to maintain palatability and maximise intakes. No matter how bad the weather is, we always draw our first lambs during the first week in April so its essential to maintain high feed intake," says Mr Gregory.

"If lambs are not eating they arent growing so a highly palatable, tasty lamb creep diet is essential."

Five-week-old lambs were eating 0.3kg a head a day by the first week in March and during the final weeks before sale can be taking up to 0.7kg a day. All lambs are drawn for sale straight off the ewe.

But lambs should also be closely monitored for coccidiosis. "Sub-clinical coccidiosis can really hold lambs back, especially in cold weather. Lambs need to be eating at least 0.45kg a head a day of the creep mix for protection against coccidiosis."

"Its important to eliminate any slow-down in lamb growth rate and to counter poor weather by keeping lambs on an even regime."

Good preparations avoid calving

By Simon Wragg

SEPARATING first time calvers from older suckler cows and paying attention to hygiene during calving will help one Bucks unit ensure this springs calvings are trouble free.

The integrity of Stephen Whitefords pre-calving preparations for calving 240 suckler cows at the 121ha (300 acre) Bridge Farm, Addington, Bucks, will be severely put to the test this spring. Falling margins on the beef and sheep unit has meant labour cuts and an increased workload for the remaining stockman and part-time helper.

But Mr Whiteford believes pre-calving preparations will help avoid complications. On veterinary advice, all cows are vaccinated against rotavirus and E coli to guard against increased risk of infection from indoor calving. "At £8/dose – with two doses needed in the first year and thereafter a single dose – the investment outweighs potential losses from a growth check."

Ahead of calving, dry cows are fed ad-lib wheat straw and 0.5kg soya/head/day to supplement a daily base ration of 10kg of average quality grass silage. But ADAS senior livestock consultant Elwyn Rees, who advises Mr Whiteford, says sucklers fed silage alone should receive 15kg silage/head/day to ensure adequate protein intake for producing colostrum and preventing disease ahead of calving.

"Its essential to ensure cows receive adequate minerals, particularly vitamins A, D and cobalt for the production of vitamin B12. Sucklers on poor quality hay, straw and roots may suffer from a shortage of vitamin E," warns Dr Rees.

Post-calving feed is under scrutiny as Mr Whiteford has been unable to separate out poorer conditioned or suspected twin-calvers due to labour constraints this year. "Its too late to change feed for heifers and cows yet to calve as it will only increase calf size and lead to calving difficulties," he says.

Calving began in mid-February with the heifers and is expected to finish in late April. Letting heifers calve first reduces exposure to bugs that build up as calving progresses. "It also allows more time to get heifers back in calf to keep a compact calving pattern," says Mr Whiteford.

As a routine, heifers are taken into a fresh straw yard a few days before calving. Dr Rees says a clean, dry calving area is essential to reduce risk of infection and skimping on straw should be avoided. "Where possible clean and disinfect pens between each calving."

Dr Rees says observation during calving, which is most likely to occur at night, must be thorough. "Where labour is short, consider installing a monitor in the calving area and linking it to a television in the farmhouse. Sucklers should be checked every six hours as a minimum," he says.

Following birth, check nasals are clear of mucus, navals are treated with antibiotic spray and calves are suckling. Ensuring calves have suckled in the first three to four hours after calving is vital to ensure good absorption of colostrum.

"When needed, fresh or frozen supplies can be fed to newborn calves, however, when heating frozen colostrum do not exceed 50 degrees C as it will kill antibodies. Also do not mix colostrum with water," warns Dr Rees.

Prior to calving, heifers and cows go into individual strawed loose boxes. When needed, replacement Continental cross calves are bought in to foster-on. Once calved, cows receive maize silage supplemented with 0.5kg soya/head/day through to turnout in mid-March. At grass cows are put into groups of 30 according to calving date and sex of the calf.

In future, rations may change at Bridge Farm because Mr Whiteford is considering cutting out grass silage to reduce feed costs and increase margins from sucklers. "With beef margins where they are and soya at £114/t, Im seriously looking at dropping grass silage this year and increasing soya to 1kg ahead to supplement ad-lib wheat straw," he says. &#42

Ensure creep is appetising

USING an appetising creep in the early stages is crucial if lamb growth targets are to be achieved.

Get lambs eating as soon as possible and keep them eating, says Signet consultant Maurice Jones. "Check they are eating enough – theres more to it than just topping up creep feeders with pellets.

"It is important to check hoppers, see how much lambs are eating, and if necessary change to a coarse mix. They need to be eating 0.3-0.4kg a day by five weeks old."

Staffs-based Mr Jones says offering a coarse-mix lamb creep feed will boost intakes, particularly when the ingredients are highly palatable.

But he believes that commercially-bred prime lambs have a far higher potential for growth rate than many realise.

"Lambs at Edstaston Hall are out of good ewes but are sired by high index Charollais rams. They kick off at 300g a day liveweight gain and can reach a peak of 400g a day.

"There is only a six-week window in which to sell these lambs for £50-£60. They have to be kept motoring otherwise higher costs are incurred and the early season premium price is missed," says Mr Jones.

Single lambs at Edstaston Hall weigh 15-20kg by five weeks old which Mr Jones believes is partly due to using superior rams.

"Modern genetics have the potential to produce finished lambs at 120-130 days and yet there are vast numbers of March-April born lambs slaughtered at 250-300 days.

"There is no genetic difference between January-born and March- born lambs so why chase high hogget prices when a better margin could be achieved six months earlier?" &#42

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