without cake

3 January 1997




Doing fine job

without cake

Finishing lambs off land rather than concentrate is the key to profits for one Norfolk producer. Emma Penny reports

THE availability of arable by-products enables one Norfolk sheep producer to finish lambs from December through to April without the use of concentrate.

Richard Evans, who farms 60ha (150 acres) at Stonehouse Farm, West Harling, Diss runs 100 sucklers and 550 ewes at home, but also buys-in 3000 stores for finishing on rented land in East Anglia (see story opposite). He also manages a flock of 5000 Beulah and Beulah cross ewes at the MODs Stanford training areas north of Thetford.

With a lambing percentage of 140-145% for this flock, about 7000 lambs are available for finishing each year.

The lambs are weaned in August at about 30-35kg, and this year Mr Evans sold 2000 of the heavier ones at weaning.

"Prices were good, and the lambs had done well. Were also leaving a higher proportion of males entire. These tend to be 1-2kg heavier than castrated lambs but although they stay the same fat class they do require careful management."

A further 1500 ewe lambs are retained, leaving about 3500 for finishing.

"After weaning the lambs go onto grass or calabrese, depending on the harvesting pattern of the company which produces the crop. The stronger lambs will go onto the calabrese – smaller lambs just seem to stand still on it."

From October through to January the lambs are on sugar beet tops.

"But the increase in winter cereals means finishing lambs on beet tops is becoming more difficult," says Mr Evans. "Many farmers want to sow a crop of late wheat after sugar beet, and its becoming difficult to find beet tops for January and February."

The value of beet tops depends on whether the tops have been removed prior to lifting, he says.

"The older machines, which lift and cut off the crown, leave tops which dont deteriorate so easily. The six-row machines tend to leave tops which wilt more quickly and are more palatable – but they deteriorate more quickly too."

February is the most difficult month to find keep, according to Mr Evans. "The lambs are usually on turnips during February because theres little else available."

In late February through until April, lambs are on rye and grass. The rye, sown on the Fens to stop soil blowing, is particularly good for poorer lambs.

The tail enders are the only finishers which are likely to receive any concentrate, says Mr Evans. "The lambs are all finished off grass, beet tops or rye – concentrate is just too expensive to justify its use."n

PROFIT from finishing lambs can only be achieved by minimising overhead costs, and buying healthy sheep with good potential.

Thats the system operated by Mr Evans for his 3000 bought-in stores. He points out that the three major areas influencing profit potential are purchase price, sale price and the cost of keeping them – and theres little way of influencing any of those.

"I buy lambs off the same farms each year. That means I know what I am buying. To continue to do that, I have to pay the price on the day. Id rather pay £2 too much and know what Im getting than £5 too little for lambs which dont meet expectations."

Ensuring that keep is available year after year is also important says Mr Evans. "You have to pay a fair price if you want to put lambs on that farm the next year."

And producers have no control over sale price. "You can say that youll only sell for 10p/kg more than the SQQ, but you have no influence on what the SQQ is."

Because of those constraints, Mr Evans has tried to make his system as efficient as possible. "Reducing the cost of finishing lambs is only really possible by increasing numbers and reducing costs a head."

That means relying on self-employed labour which can be taken on at busy times of the year, but doesnt burden the enterprise with costs at quieter times. Buying healthy stock, and ensuring it stays that way is also vital, he says. "However, I routinely dose for pasteurellosis. I also think scab and foot rot are vastly under-estimated problems and wont hesitate to dip or vaccinate if necessary."n

Doing fine job

without cake

Finishing lambs off land rather than concentrate is the key to profits for one Norfolk producer. Emma Penny reports

THE availability of arable by-products enables one Norfolk sheep producer to finish lambs from December through to April without the use of concentrate.

Richard Evans, who farms 60ha (150 acres) at Stonehouse Farm, West Harling, Diss runs 100 sucklers and 550 ewes at home, but also buys-in 3000 stores for finishing on rented land in East Anglia (see story opposite). He also manages a flock of 5000 Beulah and Beulah cross ewes at the MODs Stanford training areas north of Thetford.

With a lambing percentage of 140-145% for this flock, about 7000 lambs are available for finishing each year.

The lambs are weaned in August at about 30-35kg, and this year Mr Evans sold 2000 of the heavier ones at weaning.

"Prices were good, and the lambs had done well. Were also leaving a higher proportion of males entire. These tend to be 1-2kg heavier than castrated lambs but although they stay the same fat class they do require careful management."

A further 1500 ewe lambs are retained, leaving about 3500 for finishing.

"After weaning the lambs go onto grass or calabrese, depending on the harvesting pattern of the company which produces the crop. The stronger lambs will go onto the calabrese – smaller lambs just seem to stand still on it."

From October through to January the lambs are on sugar beet tops.

"But the increase in winter cereals means finishing lambs on beet tops is becoming more difficult," says Mr Evans. "Many farmers want to sow a crop of late wheat after sugar beet, and its becoming difficult to find beet tops for January and February."

The value of beet tops depends on whether the tops have been removed prior to lifting, he says.

"The older machines, which lift and cut off the crown, leave tops which dont deteriorate so easily. The six-row machines tend to leave tops which wilt more quickly and are more palatable – but they deteriorate more quickly too."

February is the most difficult month to find keep, according to Mr Evans. "The lambs are usually on turnips during February because theres little else available."

In late February through until April, lambs are on rye and grass. The rye, sown on the Fens to stop soil blowing, is particularly good for poorer lambs.

The tail enders are the only finishers which are likely to receive any concentrate, says Mr Evans. "The lambs are all finished off grass, beet tops or rye – concentrate is just too expensive to justify its use."n

Norfolk producer Richard Evans: "Its becoming difficult to find beet tops for January and February."


FINISHING LAMB


&#8226 Finished off grass or arable by-products.

&#8226 No concentrate used – too costly.

&#8226 Lambs finished at 16-21kg, R3L or better.

&#8226 Sold through co-op marketing group.


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