Lamb output per ewe
A well thought-out policy is the key to improving performance and profitability rules on replacements
On average, 20pc of the ewe flock is replaced annually. In the 2009 eProfit Monitor flocks (see table 1, below right), the average replacement cost was €17/ewe. However, there is a huge variation between farms.
The annual replacement cost will be influenced by the option used for flock replacements. Table 2 (below left) shows that putting replacements in-lamb in their first year will result in lower replacement costs. However, extra management costs, such as labour, medicines and mortality, may be associated with mating ewe lambs.
A well thought-out replacement policy, combined with flock management, is the key to improving the performance and profitability of sheep flocks.
The breeding of replacements will influence the productivity of the flock. Having ewes in the correct condition at mating will maximise the litter size of a particular breed. Most breeds will be capable of producing 1.4-1.5 lambs weaned per ewe to the ram with good management. However, higher weaning rates can only be achieved with the selection of prolific replacements.
Table 3 (below right) shows the relative difference between breeds. Some farms will have management systems that produce lower litter sizes than below, but others will exceed this performance. Hill flock crosses (eg, Mule/Greyface, Belclare, Suffolk-cross Cheviot) have traditionally been a source of replacements for lowland flocks. These types will give a uniform sheep flock and are capable of producing high numbers of quality lambs when crossed to terminal sires. This option of buying in replacements suits smaller flocks (less than 150 ewes) where it is not as practical to breed replacements.
Hill flocks are estimated to make up around 25pc of the national ewe flock. A high proportion of hill ewes are now mated to terminal sire rams -- eg, Suffolk, Texel and Charollais -- and this limits the potential of hill flocks to produce prolific female replacement crosses for lowland flocks. In fact, it is probably less than 10pc of the annual demand.
Results from the Hill BETTER Farm Sheep Programme are showing that hill flocks can improve output and returns through using maternal sires for producing lowland replacements on the proportion of the ewe flock that is not required to breed hill flock replacements.
Breeding own replacements