Rearing as many healthy lambs as possible will pay dividends this spring, say sheep industry commentators.
UK lamb prices are expected to mirror the trend of the last couple of years and remain firm into 2023, say analysts. This is because low domestic supply is set to meet solid demand from Europe.
“That also means effectively rearing healthy orphan lambs and any taken from triplet and twin-bearing ewes to preserve breeding sheep condition,” says Jessica Cooke, research and development manager with Volac.
“But farmers tell us that when they purchase a ewe milk replacer product to do this, they want to buy one validated by independent feeding trial data.”
Some 95% of sheep farmers said it was important to see positive independent feeding trial data highlighting the performance of proprietary ewe milk replacer products, according to the most recent Volac surplus lamb rearing survey.
Dr Cooke. “Our most recent independent lamb rearing studies confirm that both small numbers and large groups of surplus lambs can be reared highly successfully on ewe milk replacer.”
Trial work, conducted at Harper Adams University and Reaseheath College, highlighted the potential to increase the number of lambs reared from flocks with a high prolificacy rate.
“Whether you have just a few surplus lambs each spring or plenty needing rearing support away from the ewe, these trial results confirmed the opportunity to make a margin from these valuable newborns.
“While lamb prices remain strong, it makes sense to rear as many as you can. When well-finished lambs have been commanding more than £100 each, there’s still a significant payback on an investment in good quality ewe milk replacer.”
At Harper Adams, 20 Suffolk Mule cross Texel surplus lambs given early life colostrum feeding, the lambs were fed on restricted warm milk from 24 hours of age until trained to feed independently from the feeder.
They then received Lamlac ad lib using a thermostatically-controlled warm milk bucket. Intakes and growth rates were good, with lambs consuming on average two litres per day up until weaning, with a mean total intake of 73.7 litres.
On average, the lambs weighed 16.9kg on abrupt weaning at 35 days of age and achieved an average daily live weight gain up to weaning of 0.34kg per day, said Dr Cooke.
At Reaseheath College, 59 surplus third lambs from triplet-bearing North Country mules were reared on a computerised Volac Eco Feeder machine. Here, the farm reported average pre-weaning growth rates of 0.353kg per day.
The lambs were fed Lamlac achieving a mean 16.8kg at abrupt weaning at 35 days of age,” says Dr Cooke.
On both units, surplus lambs were also given access to fresh water, creep feed and forage ad lib throughout the trial feeding period. Lamlac was mixed at the rate of 200g of powder plus 800ml water to give one litre of mixed milk.
Post weaning, all lambs transitioned onto a forage-based diet along with lambs that had reared naturally on their mothers. All lambs graded similarly at slaughter with no discernible difference between those reared on ewe milk replacer or on the ewe.