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How to maximise lamb thrive

In this article, That’s Farming looks at maximising lamb thrive as we head into the autumn months. There are several management practices that you can implement on your sheep farm to maximise the performance of your lambs.

A focus across many of our flocks is to focus on keeping lambs thriving and performing to their maximum capacity. There are several factors involved in lamb performance, and they include but are not limited to weather, feed, lameness and diseases.

Nutrition focus 

Finishing lambs from grass is an unprecedented challenge for many Irish sheep farmers. According to Teagasc, a key target for early to mid-March lambing flocks is to have 50% of lambs finished off grass by early September.

There are a number of challenges associated with having 50% of your lambs finished by September from a grass diet, particularly those flocks which have a high stocking rate.

To maximise lamb thrive, it is vital that leafy grass is available 24/7. A common occurrence is that many farmers maintain a high grass cover during this time of the year, then proceed tightly graze with lambs. Moreover, this leads to a reduction in lamb thrive.

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In essence, Teagasc suggests that you graze swards tight early in the year. The logic of this is to reduce the proportion of stem in the paddocks for the remainder of the year. The ideal post-grazing sward height for lambs is 6cm from July onwards.

There are a number of grassland management strategies you can incorporate into your sheep enterprise to improve lamb thrive, including:

  • Graze out paddocks within three to five days;
  • Follow lambs with older stock;
  • Conduct grass measuring every week;
  • Graze to the correct grass height;
  • Go into covers at a height of 8cm.
Mineral supplementation

A common trace element deficiency across sheep farms is cobalt, with 73% of Irish sheep farms lacking in this trace element.

The bacteria utilise cobalt in the rumen to synthesise vitamin B12. Where cobalt is deficient, you will notice an obvious reduction in lamb thrive, and therefore you should provide through mineral supplementation.

Loss of condition, poor quality wool, dry and scaly ears, reduced appetite, raised faecal worm counts, and runny eyes are all symptoms of a cobalt deficiency.

The trace element can be introduced to lambs through oral cobalt supplementation – seek your vet’s advice. You can provide this supplement to lambs every two to three weeks post-weaning to ensure adequate cobalt levels across the flock.

Protection against blowfly

Flystrike is a major cause for concern with regard to lamb thrive. It Impacts sheep of all ages and is the result of a blowfly laying eggs in the wool of a lamb. Prevention is vital for the protection of lambs within the flock.

You can carry out plunge dipping by immersing sheep in a dip solution, for a minimum period of 60 seconds. Alternatively, there are a number of products which provide protection from flystrike for a short period of 6 to 8 weeks.

You should always seek your’s vet advice.

Furthermore, shearing will provide protection from maggots, as there are no large areas of soiled wool for flies to hatch eggs, and maggots will no longer have protection from the wool.

However, you should note that this practice will only cover the flock from flystrike for several weeks or until the wool has fully regrown.

Treatment of stomach worms

Stomach worms are the main parasite amongst sheep flocks which cause a reduction in lamb thrive. To combat stomach worms, ensure that the product you are using is effective against the exact worms in your sheep.

The correct method to do this is to take a faecal sample to identify the presence of worms, and to ensure that all worms have been killed if dosing has already been conducted. Seek advice from your vet In respect of this.

Lame sheep do not perform

Unfortunately, lameness is a case we identify on most sheep farms. Where lambs become lamb, they simultaneously do not perform or thrive to their maximum capacity. This is followed by a reduction in body condition due to pain.

To put this into context, count the number of sheep you have stocked on your farm. If more than 5 in every 100 sheep are displaying signs of lameness, then it is suggested that you further investigate the problem.

Management of lame lambs is key to achieving the maximum potential of your lamb’s performance. Utilising appropriate handling facilities with suitable footbaths, and early intervention of lame sheep is vital to maintain the thrive of lambs.

Introducing creep feeding

In addition to grassland management, creep feeding is another practice where a 100% grass-fed diet is not possible.

Feeding rates of 300g/lamb/day will:

  • Improve the performance of your lambs;
  • Reduce the slaughter age by 28 days;
  • Provide a higher kill-out % and improved carcass confirmation.

Furthermore, 1kg of liveweight gain requires 7kg of concentrates, creating a conversion rate which equates to approximately 0.45kg carcass.

Following this, the profitability of your lambs is dependent on a number of variables, including factory prices, feed and fertiliser prices, for example.

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