Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Tight labour availability prompts switch to automatic lamb feeder

February 6, 2019 by  
Filed under Livestock

Sheep farmer Andrew King is seeing the benefits of switching to an automated feeder for surplus lambs – with savings already made on labour and milk powder.

Mr King runs 1,000 ewes over three sites, with 140ha of permanent pasture and the rest on cover crops. They are looked after by shepherdess Tash Wright.

Mr King lambs in three batches. The first group of Poll Dorsets, which lamb in a polytunnel, start in December. The second batch – a mix of 60-70% Lleyn plus NZ Romneys – start in the first week of March. The remainder start in the first week of April, with the final 100 ewes lambing outside.

Good-sized lambs

“Last year was the first time we’ve grazed the ewes as part of an arable rotation,” says Mr King. “It’s a bit of an experiment for us and the arable farmer, but we both want it to work. I need grazing and he needs to battle his blackgrass problem.”

The ewes aren’t strip grazed because residues are ploughed back into the soil to improve structure and organic matter levels, so they’re behind electric but set stocked. “We haven’t done any surplus feeding this winter and so far the lambs have been good sizes,” Mr King says.

“We aim to lamb at 150% and remove triplets after 24 hours with the ewe. Bringing on triplets can pull a ewe down really fast, especially younger ewes, so we don’t take the risk.

“We’ve increased the flock from 500 to 1,000 in the past two years and I haven’t got the staff to rear all the orphan lambs. We’ve been using a Volac Ewe2 feeder for the past eight years but decided to invest in the automatic Eco Feeder this year.”

Flexible system

The Eco Feeder is an automatic milk machine that only requires a water and power supply to mix small portions of fresh, warm milk ad lib for up to 240 lambs. Mr King says it
has helped to cut down on the labour requirement of rearing lambs.

The feeder has eight outlets than can be adapted to accommodate up to 16 teats that can feed 10-15 lambs per station, with a semi-automatic cleaning function and variable temperature setting capabilities.

“We’ve only been using the new automatic feeder for a month or so but we can already see the differences in the lambs. The growth rates are much better than previously, and we’re using less milk powder as well.”

Mr King says he spends some time getting lambs to suck and clean the machine once a day, but other than that the lambs are checked three to four times a day as people are around. Once lambs reach two weeks of age, they are moved into another pen to prevent bullying at the teat.

Local market

“We wean orphan lambs at five to six weeks depending on weight and intakes of creep and forage. It’s possible to go for cheaper options when rearing orphan lambs, but we’ve been there and done that and I wouldn’t go back to it.”

“When it comes to milk powders I don’t look at anything other than Lamlac because it does exactly what it promises. You’re paying a bit more per bag but you’ve got a live lamb. We’ve not had any problems with bloat like we did with cheaper powders,” he adds.

Mr King runs a closed flock, breeding his own replacements and selling lambs at 40-45kg liveweight through Colchester market. “I like to support the local mart and it works well for us,” he explains.

“We aim to hit the Easter market with the Poll Dorsets born in December and aim to have 50% of the lambs sold before August. Everything else goes onto the cover crops for grazing and will be sold as and when they are finished.”

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