Sheep management options to reduce the impact of current low prices were discussed at the recent Moray and Nairn monitor farm meeting at Cluny, a 1060 acre unit near Forres.
Like many Scottish sheep farmers, monitor farmer Robbie Newlands is disappointed with the performance and prices of his 2012-born lambs.
Mr Newlands farms with his wife Kirsty and father, also Robbie. Cluny is part of the national programme of monitor farms, led by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).
The sheep enterprise is based on a flock of 650 Mules, crossed with Suffolk and terminal sire hybrid tups, with all progeny finished.
Lambing starts mid-April, with Mr Newlands aiming to have all lambs away before Christmas. At the meeting in late January there were still 200 lambs left at Cluny, “eating a frightening amount of pellets.”
The lambs sold had graded well and averaged 20.75 kgs dwt.
Stuart Annand, a recently-appointed Scottish Sheep Strategy Development Officer with Quality Meat Scotland discussed with the community group some of the things sheep farmers can do “inside the farm gate” to help counter the challenges they cannot control. These, he observed, included weather, exchange rates, competition from imported meat and consumer price resistance.
Mr Annand commented: “A more structured approach to flock dynamics and how we manage sub groups within the flock is required, to harness greater efficiencies inside the farm gate.”
Robbie Newlands’s ewes are scheduled for scanning in mid-February. The advice was to condition score ewes at scanning and start feeding the thinner ones.
“This will give you the best return on feeding in-lamb ewes,” explained Mr Annand. “By improving the condition of thin ewes during pregnancy, you’re sustaining the ewe as well as boosting her milking and lamb rearing ability.”
In an ideal world Mr Newlands would like to finish all his lambs off grass.
Currently lambing starts mid-April, but with Cluny grass beginning to grow earlier, it was suggested that he re-schedules future lambings to around mid-March.
Attention to grassland management to boost feed value was also advised, with the group recommending increasing clover content in pastures for grazing finishing lambs.
Scotland’s first organic monitor farm – Atholl Estates in Perthshire, had trialled 12 acres of chicory, sown with white clover and Timothy. In 2009, 180 lambs weighing 34kgs were turned onto the chicory, and 180 heavier lambs weighing 36.5 kgs went onto under-sown forage rape. The lambs on the chicory had finished quicker, with the first draw taken in the second week of August.
Mr Annand explained: “You can’t manage what you can’t measure, so weigh and handle lambs more often to better understand the cause of poorer liveweight gains. Daily gains in excess of 400 grams (2.8 kgs liveweight per week), are achievable on grass when all pieces are in place.”
Cluny’s farm vet, Mark Pearson of the Moray Coast Vet Group, had previously encouraged farmers to regularly weigh finishing lambs. He had told the group: “Performance can be badly affected by a wide range of health issues. Regular lamb weighings, with target liveweight gains, will help to monitor progress. Failure to hit targets will alert you to a problem in the early stages, helping to quickly solve the problem before performance is badly affected.”
The option of earlier weaning and feeding of lambs, to target finishing them when prices are at their best, was also discussed.
Mr Annand suggested the group consider lamb marketing strategy.
“Chasing a large 21kg carcase does not necessarily fit with what the market wants.
“This season the same financial value per lamb could have been achieved by marketing lambs at lighter weights, earlier in the season. Sound terminal sire genetics selected from performance recorded rams, targeted for growth could help achieve this.”
He also urged producers to consider purchasing Performance Recorded tups with good figures for the traits required. In Mr Newlands instance these would include terminal sire traits of quick growth and weight gain, plus good muscle depth, to sire quick finishing, well fleshed lambs.
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For further information on monitor farms, plus detailed reports of meetings visit, www.qmscotland.co.uk/monitorfarms