Options for finishing store lambs

Over the next few weeks, many farmers will be drafting their remaining lambs or getting ready to house them for the winter period.

Depending on the availability of grass and the number of breeding ewes on the farm, many farmers may decide to house their lighter store lambs and let their breeding ewes graze the remaining paddocks on the farm.

However, if there is surplus grass available and ground conditions are suitable for grazing, then farmers should consider letting their store lambs graze for a short period before housing.

At this time of the year, there are two options for farmers to finish their store lambs.

These include:

  • Grazing for a short period followed by finishing on ad-lib concentrates;
  • Finishing lambs indoors on ad-lib concentrates.

Grass and concentrate diet

The grazing season has come to an end for many farmers across the country. However, some farmers will be keen to extend the grazing season for as long as possible.

Some farms may still have grass covers yet to be grazed; therefore, this gives farmers the option of leaving lambs out for a few more weeks – weather dependent.

Lambs grazed on grass until December would be expected to gain on average between 3kg and 5kg – depending on the quality of grass. 

According to Teagasc, offering lambs 250g/day of concentrates while they are grazing grass will increase their average daily gain (ADG) by 120g/day.

The advantages of this type of system include a shorter finishing period and also less meal is required. Although this system will mean there is less grass for the breeding ewes and this may result in additional flock health costs.

Feeding ad-lib concentrates

This involves housing lambs for the winter period and finishing them on a concentrate diet. The advantage of this system is farmers can free up grass for their ewe lambs and breeding ewes.

However, this system of finishing lambs comes at a significant cost. It requires a large quantity of feed, particularly if lambs are light.

Depending on the weather and the price factories are offering lambs, it could turn into a long finishing period.

Regardless, a high level of performance can be achieved by feeding lambs ad-lib concentrates or in combination with good-quality silage.

Research carried out by Teagasc has shown that the ADG of lambs fed ad-lib concentrates were between 250g/day and 300g/day.

If farmers decide to finish lambs on an all-meal diet, it should include high-energy ingredients such as: cereals; pulp; soybean meal; distillers grains; molasses; and oils.

Recommendations

Farmers should gradually introduce meal into the lambs’ diet.

Farmers should offer lambs between 250g/day and 300g/day of concentrates at the start of the finishing period and build that up over time to between 1kg/day and 1.5kg/day, along with access to roughage such as hay.

Lambs should have access to fresh, clean water at all times. Furthermore, lambs should be allocated at least 0.8m² of floor space, with no more than 30 lambs per pen.

The housing facilities should be well ventilated and the pens should be adequately bedded with straw to keep the lambs clean.

It is important to note that lambs that are finished on an all-concentrate diet can reach their target slaughter weight quite quickly; therefore, regularly weighing lambs will give the farmer an indication when the lambs are fit to be drafted.