21st November 2013

Chicory Diet Boosts Lamb Performance on Clyde Monitor Farm

Trial work on the Clyde monitor farm to compare the performance and worm burdens of lambs grazed on chicory with lambs grazed on grass/clover pasture, has yielded some unexpected results.

Monitor farmer Andrew Baillie’s sheep enterprise on his 650 acre (263 ha) Carstairs Mains in South Lanarkshire, one of the network of Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) monitor farms, is based on a flock of 300 breeding ewes. The  majority of these are pedigree – Beltex and Texel – and all commercial lambs, plus pedigrees not suitable for breeding, are finished.

In 2012 Mr Baillie had sown chicory for the first time, opting for the variety Puna, in a seed mix which included timothy and white clover. Lambs and pre-sale shearling tups grazed on this pasture in 2012 and 2013 had thrived, encouraging Mr Baillie to undertake an on-farm chicory trial earlier this year.

Working with Dr Jos Houdijk of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) Disease Systems Team in May this year, Mr Baillie sowed an area of pure chicory.

“In July, we marked 20 of a group of lambs and weighed and dung sampled them to establish their pre-trial worm burdens,” explained Dr Houdijk. “The entire group was then split, with one half going onto the pure chicory, and the others onto what Mr Baillie assured me was the best grass/clover pasture on the farm, with ten of the marked lambs going into each group.”

Mr Baillie individually weighed and dung sampled the marked lambs monthly. The samples were sent to Dr Houdijk, who tested them for worms, including strongyles, nematodirus and coccidiosis, plus the presence of liver fluke.

At the recent meeting Dr Houdijk informed the monitor farm community group: “Consistently throughout the trial, the chicory lambs out-performed the grass/clover lambs by around 100 grammes per day of individual liveweight gain – 300 grammes versus 200 grammes over the first month.

“Yet surprisingly, despite their better performance, if anything the chicory lambs tended to have higher worm counts. However, despite their higher worm burden, the superior weight gain performance of the chicory grazed lambs suggests that the chicory helped the lambs to be resilient to worm exposure.”

Mr Baillie said that initially he was disappointed with the higher worm burden of the chicory lambs. “But the fact that they still out-performed the others really impressed me, and I’m certainly considering putting more chicory in,” he said.

“Perhaps the best thing about this trial, from my point of view, was the dung sampling. This was something I hadn’t done before. To mob dung sample sheep is really easy – you just hold them in a corner for a few minutes, and then collect the “steamers” (really fresh dung) into pots, seal, label and post.”

Once the samples had been tested drenching advice was relayed back to Mr Baillie.

“That was really interesting because based on this feedback I was able to skip some drenches – there were only a few nematodirus, a low level of coccidiosis and no fluke eggs,” he said.

“Over the period involved all lambs would have normally received two standard wormer treatments and one flukicide/wormer, at a total cost of 55p per lamb. This might not sound much per lamb but if I was finishing 2,000 lambs, the saving would be £1,100. Plus importantly – the less anthelmintics used, the less likelihood of drug resistance developing.”

Mr Baillie’s cattle enterprise includes the finishing of beef bulls, which are regularly weighed to monitor individual performance. The bulls are electronically identified, enabling the computerised tag reader, linked to the weigh cell, to give an instant daily liveweight gain for each bull as it is weighed.

“My sheep are, of course, also electronically identified and through doing this trial, I’ve realised that regularly weighing my sheep with the computerised tag reader on the scales, will flag up individuals with a poorer daily liveweight gain compared to others in the same group,” said Mr Baillie.

“There’s a three way drafter on the scales, so I can shed off any under-performers and check them over. If I can’t spot the cause of the problem, I’ll take a dung sample knowing that the result will tell me whether or not to treat.

“By doing this, I will pick up individual poorly performing sheep a lot quicker than if I was just looking at them, giving me the chance of solving the problem earlier. And I will only be drenching those sheep which actually need drenching!”

The next meeting of the Clyde Monitor Farm is planned for the week before Christmas. For more information, please contact either of the joint facilitators: Grant Conchie, telephone 01555 662562 or email: grant.conchie@sac.co.uk

or Raymond Crerar, telephone:- 01292 525458 or email: Raymond.crerar@sac.co.uk

For general information on monitor farms, plus detailed reports of meetings visit www.qmscotland.co.uk/monitorfarms

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