Coping with lamb price rollercoaster by investing in flock fertility

Significant financial bounty from raising ewe productivity

The way you sheep farmers cope with the finished lamb price rollercoaster is remarkable, writes Animax vet Dr Elizabeth Berry.

This is all the more so considering what industry pundits have said about the likely impacts of EU-UK trade relations, the Australia trade deal in the UK, and environment programmes everywhere. Clearly, these and other agri-policies are relevant and serious for sheep production wherever you are. But they’re also somewhat outside your control.

Much closer to home are things you can do for yourself to increase flock productivity and maximise financial results, wherever we find ourselves on the rollercoaster this time next year.

As you know from hard earned experience, the biggest driver by far of sheep profitability in all systems and all locations remains the number of lambs sold per ewe. And the run up to the breeding season is the most fruitful time of the year to influence this.

So in addition to pre-breeding tests on rams, it’s worth reviewing how ewe preparation could be tweaked for better results.

The all-important bottom line – UK

Increasing lambs sold per ewe from 1.6 to 1.8 for example is worth more than £5,000 in a 300-ewe flock at a typical 2020 price (c.£4.50/kg DW). If the current (July 2021) buoyant prices hold up, this financial bounty would be more than £7,000 from 300 ewes.

Calculation: 0.2 x 20kg DW x £4.50/kg DW x 300
= £5,760, or £7,200 at £6.00/kg DW.

The all-important bottom line – Ireland

Increasing lambs sold per ewe from 1.6 to 1.8 for example is worth about €4,000 in a 200-ewe flock at a typical 2020 price (c.€5.00/kg DW). If the current (July 2021) buoyant prices hold up, this financial bounty would be rather more than €5,000 from 200 ewes.

Calculation: 0.2 x 20kg DW x €5.00/kg DW x 200
= €4,000 (or €5,600 at €7.00/kg DW).

Clearly, these kinds of result depend on finding improvements and many easy wins of the past are standard practice today. But on some, perhaps many farms, this doesn’t yet include providing assured daily trace element supplementation in the important pre-tupping period. Indeed much of UK and Ireland’s pastures are up to 50% deficient in critical trace elements.

The essentials for high conception rates are selenium, cobalt and iodine, plus optional copper depending on breed, management and soil types with known deficiency. Although some supplements also contain zinc, this is largely unnecessary because sheep are very rarely deficient in this mineral.

Benefits of Tracesure (UK) or Allsure (ROI) boluses:

  • Stronger ovulation, higher embryo survival
  • Higher lambing %, fewer barren ewes
  • Minimal handling, ‘give and forget’ for 180 days
  • Easy copper option if required (e.g. prevention of swayback in lambs)
  • Easy to give, no risk (to ewe or you)

One of the easiest and most reliable methods of supplementation is a 180-day bolus from Animax to provide a consistent daily supply. To reduce your workload too, boluses can be given at the same time as other tasks including worming, vaccinations and foot checks. The best timing is six to 12 weeks before rams are put in with your ewes.

Of course, our recent experience in UK and Ireland alike of buoyant finished lamb prices will prompt wily farmers or shepherds like you to recall, “this won’t last forever and may not even last long”, even though decent prices are exactly what you lamb producers deserve. Meanwhile, if you want to sell more lambs next year without increasing ewe numbers, take a look at what farmers David Cromie and Cathal Joyce say here below.

Farmer-to-farmer, ROI

“Fitter ewes, compact lambing and lots of lively lambs at birth are reported by Cathal Joyce, Tuam, Co Galway.

He boluses ewes with Allsure four to six weeks before ram turnout to cover the full pregnancy.

Cathal also boluses bought-in store lambs for maximum thrive on kale grown for finishing lambs.

Farmer-to-farmer, UK

“Fitter ewes, higher conception rates, a more compact lambing period, and consistent lamb birth-weights” reports David Cromie in County Down.

Twice-yearly, his Millhaven Charollais and commercial crossbred ewes are bolused with Tracesure Sheep & Lamb, well ahead of breeding and again pre-lambing.

“In addition to increased production, we also value the peace of mind that trace element deficiencies are covered,” he says.

Hopefully this provides some food for thought. Please contact us to discuss how we might help you.

Elizabeth Berry, Animax Veterinary Director