Stay on top of problems…
Unseasonal weather is the
main cause for lambs failing
to finish, but better
management should help.
Emma Penny reports
LAMBS are finishing off grass on one Leics farm this year, but only because of tight grass management, regular worming and foot-bathing to overcome concerns.
Consultant Lesley Stubbings says that proactive management – helping to minimise potential difficulties such as poor grass quality, high worm burdens, scald and foot-rot – is the only way to ensure lambs finish now.
"If you let them hang about this summer they will come to the market in the autumn – along with everyone elses lambs. Increased supply means lower prices – a repeat of last years concerns."
At D C and R G Samworth Farms Folville House Farm, Ashby Folville, Leicester, manager Andrew Wright has taken care to ensure progeny from the 1000 Mule and Texel x ewes continue to grow and finish despite challenging conditions. So far, 250 have been sold deadweight this year.
"We had a good lambing in late March and early April, with high numbers of lambs turned out with their mothers in tight age group batches. However, coccidiosis, worms, lameness and maintaining grass quality have been key concerns," says Mr Wright.
Ewes and lambs are set stocked once turned out after lambing. This year, abundant grass growth has meant that in some cases, stocking rates were increased by grouping two fields of ewes and lambs together to help get ontop of growth. Excess grass has been topped, and Mr Wright has also made about 300 bales of silage.
"Rather than having too much grass, this means we have quality swards to wean lambs onto, particularly aftermath."
Ms Stubbings says that many producers have too much grass of declining quality. "It is vital to maintain the correct sward height to ensure grass quality remains high. Although some people are loathe to top or take grass for silage or hay its got to be done or the grass will go to seed and become unpalatable."
Despite keeping on top of grass growth, scald has been a concern at Folville House Farm and Mr Wright has been footbathing the flock regularly. "We have had some lambs limping. Some were also scouring, so we had their faeces checked for worms, but that was clear so we can only assume that the stress of lameness and scald was responsible. It put one group back a fortnight."
Lambs go through two footbaths, he explains. "The first one cleans their feet, while the second is the treatment – a 3% formalin solution which stings less and is not as pungent as a 5% solution."
According to Ms Stubbings, too many producers run lambs through footbaths with dirty feet, reducing efficacy. "Trundling sheep through a formalin footbath full of rubbish does little good. Another vital point is that lambs must be allowed to stand after footbathing to allow their feet to dry – if they go straight out, the treatment washes off, doing little good."
She suggests that where lameness is really bad, spraying feet may be better than using a footbath. "But keeping on top of grass will also help reduce concerns.
"Worms are another difficulty this year – it is a real wormy season and many sheep are on permanent pasture which increases risks. If flocks are on a conventional worm programme, weaning onto aftermath is the only way to break the cycle."
Mr Wright has been using Cydectin, but has gone for a six-week gap between doses rather than the usual eight-week cycle to ensure good worm control. Faecal egg counts have been clear.
Maintaining grass quality, tackling scald and ensuring worms are controlled has meant that lambs are finishing on time at Folville House Farm, but Mr Wright admits that it has been more work than usual.
Weaning will be the next task, and besides urging that lambs are put onto clean pasture, Ms Stubbings also recommends introducing supplements to help ensure lambs finish before the market becomes overcrowded.
"Whole cereal will help lambs pick up, but it must be introduced very slowly to reduce risk of acidosis. The key is to start feeding sooner rather than later – dont leave it," warns Ms Stubbings.
"Even 0.25kg a lamb will make all the difference to lambs which would otherwise store – a trade which is likely to be far less cheerful than last year."
• Maintain grass quality.
• Treat lameness.
• Control worms.
Lambs have finished off grass, but it is more difficult than usual, explains Andrew Wright. Keeping grass the right height for grazing (inset) has helped.