Good udders, teeth and feet essential for profit
Rigorous culling will help improve productivity atnext seasons lambing.Emma Penny reports
GOOD udders, teeth and feet are essential for a successful lambing and to ensure ewes are capable of rearing lambs.
According to Signet sheep consultant James Garner, producers are often too lenient when selecting ewes for culling after weaning.
"Lambing percentage is the main factor affecting profit. Ewes which dont perform as well as they should through only being able to rear a single, suffering from sore feet, or losing condition through inability to eat, will reduce flock performance and margins.
"It is better to have a young, healthy flock. However, the type of system may have a bearing on which ewes are chosen for culling; early lambing flocks depend more on concentrate than grass so ewes with poor teeth may last a year longer than they would do at grass."
With an April lambing flock, grass is the main part of the ration on Norfolk producer Graham Williamss 203ha (502 acres) Hall Farm, Felbrigg, Cromer. Care is taken, therefore to ensure ewes have sound teeth when selecting culls.
Mainly Mule ewes
Lambs from the 300 mainly Mule ewes are weaned during the last two weeks of August, and are finished between January and early March.
High prices in recent years have meant Mr Williams has bought shearlings as flock replacements rather than retain ewe lambs. He reckons to replace about a fifth of the flock each year.
Immediately after weaning, a local contract shepherd comes onto the farm with a turning crate to help select culls, he explains.
"Weaning in August gives us time to adjust ewe condition before tupping. But its essential to select culls before starting to adjust ewe condition – theres no point in spending time and money and then selecting culls before tupping."
Mr Williams and the contract shepherd will go through all ewes. "Feet, udders and teeth are inspected while ewes are in the crate. Any ewe which is not right in the milk or eating department is culled."
Ewes are rarely culled for poor feet, he says. "Although we mainly use Suffolk rams, we also use two Bleu du Maines, and find that their offsprings feet need more attention than those of the Suffolk.
"We trim the feet of every ewe when they are inspected. In-growing horn is the main concern, and foot rot doesnt appear to be a difficulty on our light land."
However, Mr Garner warns that ewes which persistently suffer foot rot should be culled as they contaminate pasture, and act as a continual source of re-infection for the rest of the flock.
Although few ewes are culled for foot problems, about a third are selected out because of poor udders, says Mr Williams.
"Any ewes incapable of rearing two lambs are culled – difficulties are almost always exclusively because of mastitis."
Ewes with hard lumps in the udder and other abnormalities should be selected for culling, says Mr Garner. "And ewes which had udder problems at lambing should be culled."
But by far the greatest proportion of culls at Hall Farm – about two-thirds – are selected because of poor or missing teeth, says Mr Williams.
"I admit that I am probably too lenient when it comes to selecting culls for teeth problems – borderline cases tend to remain in the flock. But that shows up now as those ewes with twins and without a full set of front teeth are in poor condition."
Producers with flocks which depend largely on forage rather than concentrate should be vigilant about checking teeth, says Mr Garner. "Where ewes are fed stubble turnips or beet tops they need to eat a large volume to meet dietary requirements. That will be difficult with poor teeth."
He also advises checking the molars of young ewes which seem to be thin for no apparent reason. "It might be that their molars are uneven so they cant chew their cud. This rarely occurs, but those ewes should be culled."
Ewes which have suffered prolapses at lambing should also be culled, he says. "Theres a great likelihood that they will prolapse again within the next two years. They should be removed from the flock, as those which are barren, although producers may wish to give young ewes a second opportunity."
Ewes in poor condition, which are unlikely to be in suitable condition at tupping, should not be retained, he says. "These ewes are unlikely to conceive, and if they do, a single lamb is the probable outcome."
Graham Williams (left) replaces about a fifth of the ewe flock at Hall Farm each year. Poor teeth is the main reason for culling. Foot-rot is never really a concern – but consultant Lis Signet James Garner warns that persistently affected ewes should be culled.
• Poor feet, persistent foot rot.
• Mastitis or udder concerns.
• Loose or missing teeth.
• Previous prolapses.