7th August 2014

Borders Farmers Make Lamb Productivity and Profitability a Priority

A group of Borders farmers recently gathered to discuss the benefits of creep feeding lambs and the current issues relating to producers and processors at the latest meeting of the Borders Lamb Supply Chain Group.

Around 25 people visited Grant Todd's Greenend Farm at St Boswells, where he runs 1050 cross ewes on 350 acres of grass, with a further 150 acres of cereals. A number then went on, a few days later, to visit Scotbeef at Bridge of Allan and follow a selection of lambs through to slaughter.

The aim of the Lamb Supply Chain meetings, which are facilitated by SAC Consulting's Iain Riddell and funded by QMS, Farm Stock (Scotland) Ltd and the Scottish Government, are to improve communication throughout the supply chain while improving productivity and profitability at each stage.

Mr Todd said: "I find these meetings useful for keeping up to date with what abattoirs and markets require and also to discuss methods of producing lambs in a more cost-effective way."

Mr Todd’s system at Greenend is well geared-up for sheep with housing for 1000 ewes, although Grant said that since he has changed from Greyface to Suffolk cross ewes, there is not so much room. However, he said the benefits of the larger ewes outweigh the disadvantages as they are easy to overwinter and worth more when culled after five crops.

He uses Texel rams and also teasers which help to produce a tight, two week lambing period starting on March 2nd. The lambing percentage is calculated on the number of lambs sold and is usually around 175 to 180%. Mr Todd makes extensive use of creep feed from an early age to try to get as many lambs away early in the summer as possible and take advantage of the higher prices. He said he does not usually have any lambs left on the farm by the end of September.

"I buy about 10 tonnes of pellets to get them started in the feed, then gradually introduce home-grown barley or oats, whichever is better value, to keep the costs down to around £5 per head," said Mr Todd.

Trials carried out on the farm last year show that the creep-fed lambs left more profit than those finished off grass and Victoria Stebbings, livestock procurement officer for Farm Stock (Scotland) Ltd pointed out that the creep-fed lambs not only handled better but also had higher killing out percentages at an average of 47.8% compared to 44.3% for grass-fed lambs.

Bill MacKinnon of Scotbeef, who welcomed the small contingent of farmers to the abattoir at Bridge of Allan said the meeting was useful for him to put forward the message that Scotbeef requires a standardised product for home or export trade. This means a 16 to 21kg deadweight lamb, grade R or better and ideally 2 or 3L.

He told the group: "The key thing for us as processors is to encourage farmers to draw their lambs regularly so they fall within the specification. That way they do not incur penalties and neither do we, by ensuring we have a product that we can sell."

This year Mr Todd said he has already sold 1200 lambs and he believes that if they were finishing on grass alone, sales would just be starting now. The first 1000 lambs sold averaged £86 per head so, he explained, that even deducting the £5 per head cost of creep feeding, they are still coming to more than if he was selling now at depressed prices of £72 to £74 per head.

"The other benefits of getting lambs away early is that it allows me to shut up more grass for silage and there is more for the ewes in the autumn too,” said Mr Todd. “There are also savings on dips and medication with most lambs only requiring two doses before they are sold."

Lambs are mostly sold off their mothers, which eliminates any weaning set-backs, but if they do have to be weaned, they are so established on the home-grown barley mix that there is no impact on weight gain.

This year has been a much better year for growing lambs than 2013 with Iain Riddell's figures showing an average daily liveweight gain so far of nearly 0.5kg per day compared with just under 0.3kg over the whole season last year. Also, the first draw of lambs was two weeks earlier this year on 29th May and Mr Todd is pleased that he is down to the last 300 to 400 lambs already.

The next Borders Lamb Supply Chain Group meeting will take place in October, when Iain Riddell will have final figures for the Greenend lambs and, combined with the feedback from Farm Stock and Scotbeef, the group can analyse where productivity can by improved or costs reduced.

Further Lamb Supply Chain Group Meeting dates:

19th  August – Tom Marshall, Mains of Tig, Ballantrae, Ayrshire KA26 0LJ, starting at 5.30pm and BBQ to follow. 

20th August – Sir David Kinloch, Parks of Aldie, Fossoway, Kinross KY13 0QH, starting at 11.00am and lunch to follow.

To register your attendance please contact Kirsty at QMS on 0131 472 4040 or email info@qmscotland.co.uk with your name, address and telephone number, stating which of the meetings you would like to attend.

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