Lamb production – reducing costs and improving performance

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In recent weeks difficulties within the sheep trade have been well documented.

There are a wide range of factors which have contributed to the downturn and while the UFU continues to lobby for better prices and a solution to difficulties with EU labelling laws, the UFU has consulted with CAFRE and is encouraging producers to focus on factors within their farm which they can control in order to reduce costs, improve lamb performance and mitigate against difficulties in the market place.

At this stage of the year worm control and grazing management are two major factors that affect lamb performance. Worms are a major threat to the health and performance of young lambs and over the past two weeks warnings have been issued highlighting a high risk period of Nematodirus worm infection.

Nematodirosis is a particularly nasty disease that causes a high number of mortalities and stunts growth. Nematodirus normally only affects lambs between six and 12 weeks of age so farmers should be on the lookout for lambs with watery yellow-green scour or ill thrift.

If farmers feel their lambs are at risk they should consult their vet or local CAFRE Beef and Sheep advisor about the treatment options available. Faecal egg counts (FEC) are also a useful way to establish if there is a worm burden throughout the season. At this time of the year, observe lambs closely and treat those that are at risk of infection.

Grassland management is also a key factor in maximising lamb performance. Target growth rates for lambs on grass-based systems are 250-280 g/day up to weaning at 16 weeks. This is achieved by growth rates of 300 g/day during April and May, reducing to 210 g/day in June and July. Regular weighing of lambs is the only way in which these targets can be monitored. To achieve these growth rates short leafy dense pastures must be established and maintained, ideally between 4 and 6 cm. Research work investigating sheep only grazing systems has shown that lamb growth rates can be reduced by 15% if sward heights are maintained above the target range of 4-6 cm. In contrast long grass is less digestible and lamb performance will suffer as well as increase the risk of lameness.

Setting up a rotational grazing system is a very effective way of maintaining grass quality and helping to match grass supply to the demand of the ewes and lambs. A rotational grazing system can be set up simply by dividing the total grazing area into 3-4 blocks or fields and moving the ewes and lambs round the fields in line with target grass heights.

For further advice and information on worm control and grazing management contact your local CAFRE Beef and Sheep development adviser on 0300 200 7843