How to get your lambs over the finishing line
As grass supplies decline, it's time to look at the most efficient options for finishing lambs
It may be force of habit or simply tradition, but many sheep farmers repeatedly follow the same steps that they did other years when finishing lambs. But it is well worth analysing the finances and the best options available.
The first choice is simple; do I sell or retain the lambs for finishing? Secondly, what system do I use to finish the lambs?
For the buyer of store lambs there are also a number of questions to be considered. What price should I pay for store lambs? Lowland stores were making up to €2.25/kg last week, with hill stores seeing as high as €2.40/kg for better quality lots.
There are plenty of questions required to really dig down into the finances:
How long will these animals need to reach slaughter weight?
What system will be used to finish them?
How much will it cost to finish them?
What price will the finished lamb command?
What margin will this leave?
At this stage of the year, grass supplies are limited in most cases so finishing systems are based on some level or concentrate supplementation and or alternative forages.
I am going to focus on concentrate finishing systems.
The figures show around one fifth of lambs are slaughtered in Ireland during the first three months of the year (figure 1), with a constant supply of product to the market.
These lambs are predominantly derived from the previous year's lamb crop and are largely finished on concentrates.
Yet regardless of finishing system operated there are a number of constants which need to be remembered.
Lambs available at this time of the year are past the peak growth potential in most instances and when purchasing lambs care should be taken to avoid lambs with low growth potential.
This is often easier said than done purchasing through the mart, where animal history is minimal at best.
When purchasing store lambs, animal health is a primary consideration.
On arrival, lambs should be foot-bathed, treated for fluke and worms, any trace element problems should be corrected.
It can be assumed that cobalt and selenium are deficient, while copper status may also need attention. As always with sheep great care is required with copper supplementation. Animals should also receive clostridial vaccinations.
Lamb mortality can have a big impact on the profitability of a store lamb system with each percentage point increase in lamb mortality reducing margin per lamb by between 50-80c per lamb.
Shearing of store lambs is something that is often considered and recommended. However, research from Teagasc would show that shearing does not improve animal performance in terms of liveweight or carcase gain.
It does lead to increased intake of feed but this is often offset by a lower efficiency of energy utilisation for carcase gain, as much of the energy goes towards creating warmth.
Based on this, it was concluded there is no benefit to shearing lambs at the start of an indoor feeding period and if the practice of shearing is to be carried out it should be done so in August for hill lambs.
Dr Tommy Boland is a lecturer in sheep production at UCD's Lyons research farm firstname.lastname@example.org
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