Friday, December 15, 2017

Surplus lamb rearers missing a profitable opportunity

February 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Livestock

LambsOnFeeder

More than half of UK sheep producers are still bottle-feeding surplus lambs, despite it being an extremely labour-intensive practice that fails to capitalise on early life growth potential.

More than 580 farms participated in a Volac survey to examine surplus lamb rearing practices. Some 99% of respondents said it was important to rear the maximum number of lambs possible. But only 45% were using modern feeding technology to boost animal performance.

Independent sheep consultant Kate Phillips said: “You can undoubtedly save on labour and get better lamb growth rates with ad lib milk feeding systems. Why spend hours a day bottle feeding when you could be prioritising important tasks elsewhere during a hectic lambing period?”

Challenge of fostering

Surplus lambs could be reared efficiently artificially and without the challenge of fostering onto an unwilling ewe, said Ms Phillips. “With good husbandry, organisation and the right milk replacer there’s no doubt you can produce good quality lambs, as well as save hours of effort and hassle.”

Unsurprisingly, the lambs being reared artificially are those from triplet-bearing ewes in the main, together with any orphans. More than 80% of farmers say that if a ewe has had triplets one lamb would be removed and reared artificially.

But only a third of producers choose the odd-one-out lamb from a group of three, which is recommended practice, said Volac technical specialist Ian Watson. “It’s always best to leave a balanced pair of lambs on the mother.”

Faster growth rates

Machine-feeders also report faster growth rates because there was no limit to how much or when the lambs could drink, said Mr Watson. Producers using machine-feeders also reported seeing fewer digestive upsets.

“Most significantly, though, users also report a decent margin over lifetime feed of anywhere between £15 and £25 per lamb. This margin could be even healthier in 2017 if lamb price and demand remains buoyant.”

But Mr Watson stressed that automatic feeding systems are not a substitute for good husbandry. He said: “Sound hygiene is crucial and lamb pens must be draught-free, well drained and bedded to keep lambs as warm and dry as possible.”

Clean, fresh water also needs to be available along with creep feed and long forage offered ad lib to encourage early intake. Lambs should be weaned abruptly at no less than five weeks of age when they are two and half times birthweight and eating 0.25kg of creep a day over three days.

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