As farmers move towards bought-in concentrates over the winter, sheep farmers should take a closer look at the growth of their lambs.

Assessing the performance of the lambs can help to protect both margins and next year’s crop, and will influence the decision of the farmer as to whether it is cost effective to push the lambs on with concentrate feed.

“The longer lambs are on farm, the more they are impacting the forage available for the 2024 crop of lambs,” Kirsten Williams, a senior sheep and beef specialist at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) explained.

Williams added that the availability of forage for breeding ewes for autumn and winter must be considered, as it can affect “next year’s output”.

Finishing lambs

While many farmers will have a good idea from years of experience what it will roughly cost per head to finish their lambs, Williams advises them to take a closer look at the finishing cost per kg to make this decision.

“Working out what it will cost per kg in inputs to gain those last kgs and the difference in the end price can clarify what’s best for the business,” she said.

Williams advised that farmers should ask themselves the following questions:

  • Why is that batch of lambs not gaining weight?
  • Is it going to be cost effective to buy in inputs or should we spend more on nutrition to finish them faster?
  • Is the balance of protein and energy right?
  • Is there a parasite problem?
  • Is there a genetic pattern?
  • Should they be selling them as store lambs or taking them through to fattening?

To optimise lamb performance, Williams said farmers must get the right balance of three key factors – health, nutrition and genetics.

Not only is this important for profitability and easy management, but it can also help with reducing methane emissions.

“If one or more of these three elements is out, performance slips from higher losses of lambs and ewes, lower growth rate and litter size, leading to a lower level of output,” she added.

“It’s all about the best use of inputs and minimising waste,” Williams said.

Lamb efficiency

The senior sheep specialist at SRUC said a robust health plan can help make gains at every stage.

“A high worm burden means more time and feed are needed for finishing, so regular faecal egg counts can make a difference. Lameness can reduce growth by up to 7.5%,” Williams said.

Improving and maximising forage and prioritising the right nutrition at each stage of production, whether dry, in-lamb or lactating, is also key, as is keeping the right genetics for good finishing rates.

“Breeding and feeding efficiency into the flock can be slow; but taking the time to analyse the information you are gathering and taking a more detailed approach will bring cumulative benefits and lead to greater long-term productivity,” Williams said.