With UK lamb prices expected to mirror the trend of the last couple of years and remain firm into 2023 due to low domestic supply against solid demand within the EU, sheep industry commentators believe it will still pay farmers to rear as many healthy lambs as possible come lambing time.

“That also means effectively rearing healthy orphan lambs and any taken from triplet and twin-bearing ewes to preserve breeding sheep condition,” said Dr. Jessica Cooke, research and development manager with Volac.

“However, farmers tell us that when they purchase a ewe milk replacer product to do this, they want to buy one validated by independent feeding trial data.”

According to the most recent Volac surplus lamb rearing survey, 95% of sheep farmers said it was important to see positive independent feeding trial data highlighting the performance of proprietary ewe milk replacer products.

“This is why we invest in feeding trials,” said Dr. Cooke.

“Indeed, our most recent independent lamb-rearing studies confirmed that both small numbers and large groups of surplus lambs can be reared highly successfully on ewe milk replacer.”

Lamb trial work

The trial work, conducted at Harper Adams University (HAU) and Reaseheath College, highlighted the potential to increase the number of lambs reared from flocks with a high prolificacy rate.

“Whether you have just a few surplus lambs each spring or plenty needing rearing support away from the ewe, these trial results confirmed the opportunity to make a margin from these valuable newborns,” Dr. Cooke added.

While lamb prices remain strong, it makes sense to rear as many as you can.

“Indeed, when well-finished lambs have been commanding more than £100 each – as they have done for a large part of the last two years – there’s certainly still a significant payback on an investment in good quality ewe milk replacer,” said Dr. Cooke.

At HAU, 20 Suffolk Mule-cross Texel surplus lambs were reared off the ewe on Lamlac using a Volac Ewe2 thermostatically-controlled warm milk bucket.

“After early life colostrum feeding (50ml/kg birthweight), the lambs were fed on restricted warm milk from 24 hours of age until trained to feed independently from the feeder, then receiving Lamlac ad lib thereafter,” Dr. Cooke said.

“Intakes and growth rates were good, with lambs consuming on average 2L/day up until weaning, with a mean total intake of 73.7L.

“On average, the lambs weighed 16.9kg on abrupt weaning at 35 days of age and achieved an average daily live weight gain up to weaning of 0.34kg/day.”

At Reaseheath College, 59 surplus third lambs (largest lamb removed; leaving a balanced pair on the ewe) from triplet-bearing North Country mules were reared on a computerised Volac Eco Feeder machine.

“Here, the farm reported fantastic pre-weaning growth rates of 0.353kg per day on average, with the lambs fed Lamlac achieving a mean 16.8kg at abrupt weaning at 35 days of age,” said Dr. Cooke.

On both units, surplus lambs were also given access to fresh water, creep feed and forage ad lib throughout the trial feeding period.

Lamlac was mixed at the rate of 200g of powder plus 800ml water to give 1L of mixed milk.

Post weaning, all lambs transitioned onto a forage-based diet along with lambs that had reared naturally on their mothers.

All lambs graded similarly at slaughter with no discernible difference between those reared on ewe milk replacer or on the ewe.