Keeping em alive

3 December 1999

Keeping em alive

By Jeremy Hunt

FINISHERS of hill-bred store lambs should continue to strive for low mortality rates this winter and not cut corners on husbandry just because lambs have cost less and margins may be tight.

Cumbria college lecturer Stuart Higham believes the lower purchase price of hill-bred store lambs gives finishers greater opportunity for profit and makes a planned health programme even more cost-effective.

"Hill-bred store lambs may have been cheap this autumn but cutting corners on vet and med costs is counter productive, even in the present market," says Mr Higham, who is responsible for store lamb finishing at Newton Rigg College, Penrith.

He aims to keep mortality as low as possible. "Its just as important when lambs are being bought for under £10 as it was when they were three times the price."

Mr Higham, who also runs his own flock of 150 breeding ewes, says its important to take account of the culture shock in terms of handling and dietary changes suffered by hill lambs when moved on to finishing systems.

For several years Newton Rigg Colleges outdoor lamb finishing system has been based on around 300 Scottish Blackface and Cheviot lambs bought from Highlands and Islands Lamb (HILL).

This year, lambs from the colleges hill farm at Mungrisedale in the northern Lake District will replace the HILL-sourced lambs for outdoor finishing. They are predominantly Mule wethers but also include some Charollais and Suffolk crosses bred out of Swaledale ewes. Despite the change in lamb type, the same strict finishing regime is being followed.

Lambs moving onto the colleges lowland farm are injected with a clostridial vaccine on arrival and given a worm drench including trace elements. Past experience has shown that although store lambs have probably received a clostridial injection in early life, a booster is essential. Lambs are also scratched for orf.

"But even with this level of medication we still lose a few lambs through pulpy kidney or pneumonia-related problems. Im sure mortality would be higher if we didnt keep to this strict health regime," says Mr Higham. Last year 318 lambs were bought and 286 lambs were marketed.

The medication regime also includes being dipped with Diazanon, a second clostridial vaccination and a further drench after about six weeks. Vet and med costs last year were £1.26 a lamb.

"There will have been plenty of decent horned wether lambs bought for £10 this autumn and if the spring hogget market is favourable they could leave a reasonable margin. Finishers should take advantage of this situation. Its even more important to keep mortality as low as possible and capitalise on the lower purchase price."

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