Sound economic benefits in not castrating lambs

29 January 1999

Sound economic benefits in not castrating lambs

By James Garner

WELFARE codes have yet to make an issue over castration, because in many cases the alternative scenario – young males tupping their sisters – is an equally serious welfare concern.

In some cases, there is no reason for castration or tailing, because lambs are marketed early and males are slaughtered well before their meat becomes tainted or tastes any different.

There are other benefits as well, says David Barber livestock manager at Tony Goods Warborough Farm, Letcombe Regis, Wantage, Oxon. "Entires have faster growth rates and no growth check because they are not ringed, which reduces stress."

Their abattoir happily accepts entire lambs and they have experienced few problems marketing them. "We have had some downgraded for being a bit ram-like, but this was a long while ago. All lambs are slaughtered before they are 16 weeks old, so they are unlikely to get to this stage."

Mr Barber manages 2100 Finn Dorset cross Milk Sheep ewes at Warborough Farm, where lambing begins in the first week of December for a 12- to 14-day period.

"All ewes are cervically AId using semen from high index rams from the Suffolk and Charollais Sire Reference Schemes."

AI is organised so as to give a break over Christmas and New Year. "Our own rams are put in to catch ewes returning to service on their second oestrus cycle. This means we are not lambing over the festive period. "Apart from six weeks work at lambing, ewes have an easy life," says Mr Barber. After birth, lambs are given 18% protein creep once turned into bigger yards in groups of 50.

"We wean lambs at six weeks to prevent ewes losing too much condition and by then some lambs are too big to get through the creep gates."

The plan is to have all lambs marketed between 12-16 weeks of age. Rapid growth reduces feed costs and ensures optimum levels of creep are eaten.

With tails and testicles intact, Warborough Farms lambs seem as happy as castrates, and it saves time at lambing when every minute is crucial, says Mr Barber.

"You lose killing out percentage of up to 1kg, because of extra waste. But our lambs are heavier and leaner, averaging U and R, 3L and 3H for fat.

"We have occasional problems such as a few mucky behinds, but that is easily clipped off. And some of the inexperienced ewes will bite lambs tails off by accident. When this happens I put a rubber ring on the tail to prevent infection getting in."

Some producers are wary of leaving lambs entire because some seem as though they will never finish, but Mr Barber says this is not a significant problem.

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