There has been big increase in the numbers of store lambs on offer over the last few weeks, and this will continue right through September as hill lambs and crossbred lambs are weaned on farms.
The outlook for lamb prices appears to be positive for the rest of 2022. Demand for store lambs appears to be slightly impacted at the moment as a result of very dry conditions and moisture deficits in parts of the country, which has left grass supplies tight.
While rain will be welcomed in these areas, it will mean a delay for some buyers getting store lambs. This means that some farms may have to keep store lambs a little longer than normal this year.
Keeping these lambs thriving after weaning is very important to ensuring a maximum price in the sales ring when buyers do eventually get going again.
Another challenge facing farmers is the dramatic rise in input costs. Fertiliser, feed, veterinary medicines and fuel prices have all risen dramatically.
It is more important than ever for sheep farmers to reduce their reliance on concentrate feed when keeping lambs in the main grass growing season of April to October.
What factors affect lamb performance from grazed grass? Number one is nutrition – leafy grass drives lamb performance.
Long or stemmy grass will reduce performance. It is important that fields are fully grazed out or topped down to about four centimetres after each grazing. Ideal grazing grass height for lambs is somewhere between six and 10cm. This will ensure good-quality grass in subsequent rotations.
Fertiliser is very expensive this year but is still good value when compared to replacing grazed grass with concentrates.
It is important to use sufficient fertiliser to grow enough grass to feed livestock and to maintain grass quality. ‘Little and often’ applications of fertiliser nitrogen will help to keep grass leafy. In a lot of cases, lambs will be grazing grass after silage has been cut which is ideal as it is clean and leafy.
Internal parasite control is very important for lamb thrive. Stomach worms are the main parasite causing ill thrift in lambs.
However, most sheep farmers do not know which anthelmintics (wormers) are still effective on their farms. Where the wormer used is no longer effective, animal performance will be poor as the lambs will still have a parasite burden after treatment.
Make sure the product you are using is effective against the worms in your sheep. The only way that to do this is by taking a faecal sample after treatment to ensure that all the worms have been killed.
Lame lambs are far too common on farms. Lame lambs don’t perform, lose body condition, and are in great discomfort. No amount of feed is going to prop up the performance of lambs suffering from scald or foot rot.
Seperate lame lambs, identify the cause of their lameness and treat it. They should only re-join the flock once the disease has cleared. Routine footbathing of the flock will help prevent healthy sheep from going lame.
Cobalt deficiency is the mineral deficiency that most commonly affects lamb thrive on Irish sheep farms. Cobalt is an important mineral used by the bacteria in the rumen to synthesise vitamin B12.
On cobalt-deficient farms, lambs will need a continuous supply to ensure optimum thrive. Oral cobalt supplementation with 10-to-15ml of cobalt sulphate solution every two to three weeks post-weaning should rectify any such deficiency.
There is also the option of using boluses, but these are much more expensive.
Pour-on insect growth regulator gives excellent control against blowfly strike. If biting lice or sheep scab are affecting sheep, then plunge dipping with an approved product is the best option.
Different products will have different withdrawal periods, so it is important to bear that in mind when choosing a particular product, especially for ‘short keep’ lambs.
Creep-feeding concentrates play an important role in helping to finish lambs.
However, concentrate supplementation carries a high cost and should be used judiciously and targeted at finishing groups, or used in October when performance off grass is naturally restricted.